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Georgia Special Education Law Blog

Measurable Education Goals

on Mon, 08/19/2013 - 20:36

One of the legal requirements of goals in an IEP is that they be measurable. In other words, people who were not at the meeting should be able to determine how much progress a student has made towards the goals. That means the school district must collect data. Further, the meaning of that data should be clear. For example, a data sheet that says a student interacted appropriately with peers is not very informative, because “appropriate” could mean so many different things. By contrast, a data sheet that says the student initiated three interactions with peers tells the reader what happened in a measurable way.  

There are numerous benefits of measurable goals. First, it allows a parent to compare how the student is doing at school and at home. Second, it makes data (and hopefully services) less dependent on the particular teacher providing the services. Third, comparing data from measurable goals over time can help you discover whether current levels of services are enough to provide appropriate educational benefit. Knowing that your child is at 55% success when the goal is 80% success might be fine, depending on how much of the school year has passed. Or it might mean that it is time to talk with the school district about increasing the intensity of services. At an IEP meeting, there are two major implications from the requirement that goals be measurable:  

Numerical Progress Reports

The school district is required to tell you about your child’s progress on IEP goals at least as frequently as typical children are given progress reports – generally, whenever a report card is sent home. Too often, the progress reports say only that the student is “making appropriate progress.” By itself, this is useless to figure out whether the special education plan is working well. You should insist that the IEP require the school district provide numerical progress. The school district is supposed to be collecting data. If the district will not send you copies, it should send you useful summaries.  

One Fraction Rule

When an IEP goal is measured in terms of trials, that means that the school district expects your child to make mistakes some of the time. There is nothing inherently wrong with a goal that a student will succeed at a task in two out of three tries. Separately, there is nothing wrong with setting a percentage for when a skill is mastered, allowing the school district to change to working on another goal. But when those two parts of an IEP get combined, it can effectively reduce the goal to nothing. The criteria for mastery percentage is the fraction of the time that the skill must be demonstrated so that parents and teachers can justify thinking the child has the skill. But fractions in an IEP goal should be multiplied together. With a criteria for mastery of 50% and a goal of success at 2 out of 3 trials, the district is essentially saying that teachers can stop working on a skill once the student completed 1 trial, because 50% = 1/2, and one half of two is one. If that is not what the IEP team meant, then the IEP should be written so that it says what everyone agrees it means. That is why I have a strict rule that only one fraction or percentage is allowed in any particular IEP goal.  

Important Links

From 2004 to 2007, a teacher at the Hopewell Middle School in Fulton County physically abused children in the non-verbal special education classroom. For this violation of federal law, Fulton County Schools has already been ordered to provide compensatory services to at least one student from that classroom. Now, another case is going to trial, starting Tuesday, August 20, 2013. Come to the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings (230 Peachtree Street) to show support for the family. Additional information can be found in this news article.  

Upcoming Events

I will be speaking at the SPECTRUM parent support group monthly meeting on Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 6:30 pm.  

The Social Thinking Scholarship 2013 will close to applicants on October 7, 2013.  

Have your own event for children with special needs? Submit it here for inclusion in future events lists.

Social Thinking Scholarship 2013

on Mon, 08/05/2013 - 14:54

It is with great pleasure that the Law Office of Tim Schwarz announces the Social Thinking Scholarship 2013. This scholarship will provide free registration for the receipient to a seminar November 5, 6, & 7, 2013 that will help teachers, parents, or care providers teach social skills to children with social skill deficits. Application here.  

Understanding how other people think is one of the most underrated skills that children learn in school. Being able to identify, understand, and correctly respond to the feelings of others takes practice. Good social skills help people interacting with others, avoid conflicts, and build friendships.  

Most children learn social skills as an incidental part of going to school and interacting with their peers. But some children have special needs and can have trouble developing appropriate social skills without extra help from parents, teachers, and other care providers. Because social skills are usually learned without special intervention, it is often very difficult to develop and implement strategies to help children with special needs learn needed social skills.  

Michelle Garcia Winner has developed an evidence-based approach to addressing weaknesses in the social thinking process. On November 2013, Social Thinking Publishing, Inc. is holding a three-day training conference for parents and professionals to learn how to help children reduce social skill deficits. For more information on Marcia Garcia Winner's programs, check out the Social Thinking website.  

Because of the importance of social skills, the Law Office of Tim Schwarz is offering a scholarship for one individual to attend the conference free of charge. One application per person, one applicant will be randomly selected to receive the scholarship. Transportation and lodging not included. The Law Office of Tim Schwarz is not affliated with Michelle Garcia Winner, Social Thinking Publishing, Inc., or socialthinking.com.

The application for the Social Thinking Scholarship 2013 is here.

EDIT: The application period has ended and the scholarship has been awarded.

Social Thinking Scholarship 2013 Application

on Mon, 08/05/2013 - 14:25

Georgia Law on Restraint

on Tue, 07/16/2013 - 20:35

Restraint is schools is governed by Georgia Compiled Rules & Regulations rule 160-5-1-.35. Note that this rule applies to all students, not just those students with IEPs or 504 Plans.  

The Georgia rule on restraint divides interventions into several categories:  

(1) Chemical restraint – any medication to restrict movement that is not prescribed by the student’s doctor.  

(2) Mechanical restraint – essential the dictionary definition of restraint, covering a physical object that restricts movement and cannot be easily removed by the student. Therapeutic devices recommended by a doctor or therapist are excluded from the definition, as are seatbelts.  

(3) Physical restraint – physical contact from an adult to restrict a student’s movement. Prone restraint is specifically defined, and involves putting a student face down on a floor or surface and using force to keep the student prone.  

(4) Seclusion – putting a student in a separate area and physically preventing the student from leaving, such as locking the door.  

(5) Time out – any time a student is removed from the learning environment but not confined.  

Chemical restraint, mechanical restraint, prone restraint, and seclusion are prohibited by the rule. Physical restraint is allowed only when the student is an immediate danger to himself or others and no less intense intervention is working. It must stop when the student is no longer a danger. Additionally, physical restraint cannot be used as school discipline, when unsafe to do so, or when medically inappropriate.  

Ignoring compliance issues, that seems like a reasonable policy, but there are several ways that a school district can wiggle out of the prohibition. Most reasonably, the rule does not cover actions taken by police or medical personnel (such as EMTs), even if the school called the police or the ambulance. But the rule explicitly allows school district employees to take “appropriate” action when (a) dealing with a fight or (b) protecting other students and staff. A teacher is cannot be liable in a lawsuit for money if the teacher is preventing imminent harm or bodily injury.  

Those exceptions practically swallow the rule because the only time a school employee should be considering use of force is when the problem behavior is severe. Although the rule provides protection when the student’s behavior does not affect other students, most times a student’s behavior rises to the level that restraint should be considered, the behavior risks harming other people at the school. Expect a school district to emphasize dangers to others whenever a teacher or school official uses restraint on your child because that conclusion gives the district the best justification for what restraint teachers used.  

There are many things a parent can do to address concerns about restraint. First, you have a right to be informed within a reasonable time, preferably within one school day. During that conversation, ask school officials what less intense interventions and de-escalation techniques are being used. School officials are required to start with less severe interventions if possible, and school employees should be able to explain why lesser methods did not work and what could be done to make them work in the future.  

Additionally, school districts are required to have a written policy on use of physical restraint. Get a copy and read it, then think about whether you believe it was followed with your child. The written policy also must describe training on restraint provided to teachers and explain how use of restraint is documented. If those provisions were not followed, you should talk with people at your child’s school to encourage them to follow the rules in the future.  

These rules on restraint are not just rights that protect your child. The rules are also the Georgia Department of Education’s considered opinion of what works well to deal with a student’s extreme behavior while minimizing physical and emotional harm to the student and improving the student’s future behavior and academic outcomes.  

Upcoming Events

I will be speaking at the Reach Enrichment Center’s monthly meeting on Saturday, August 3 at 10:00 am.  

Additionally, I will be speaking at the SPECTRUM parent support group monthly meeting on Thursday, October 3 at 6:30 pm.  

Have your own event for children with special needs? Submit it here for inclusion in future events lists.

Informal Accommodations and High Stakes Testing

on Mon, 06/24/2013 - 19:41

There are many reasons to be wary of informal or unwritten accommodations of your child’s disability. The major concern is that informal changes made by individuals depend on those individuals remaining in their roles. But when a student changes grade or school, the teacher who informally gives extra time on math tests probably won’t follow that student.  

Without a written plan, you will not be able to show the school district that it already agreed to particular changes for your child. Instead, you will need to start over at the beginning of the process, convincing the district that a particular modification or accommodation is necessary for your child. That concern is one of many reasons that accommodations are supposed to be listed in an IEP.1  

In addition to those basic concerns, the accommodations your child receives on high stakes testing like the CRCT or SAT are heavily dependent on the parallel accommodations your child receives in the classroom. Even when everything is going well between you and the school district, the administrators of high stakes tests often resist giving accommodations during testing. If the accommodations are not written in a special education plan, then the administrators of the high stakes test are even more likely to resist.  

Fortunately, this is one area where you and the school district have interests in common. For a variety of reasons, school districts want better scores on high stakes tests, because that reflects well on the school district. Thus, the district is likely to agree to put accommodations in writing if it has already been convinced to provide the accommodation. But just because the district is willing to put accommodations in writing does not mean that school officials will remember to do so when the IEP or 504 plan is being written. Thus, reminding school officials about this issue can get accommodations written down, with all the benefits of formal instead of informal accommodation.  

1 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(IV).  

Interesting Links

From Georgia Public Broadcasting, this is an interesting article about shortfalls in Georgia programs for training new teachers.  

Upcoming Events

I will be speaking at the Reach Enrichment Center’s monthly meeting on Saturday, August 3 at 10:00 am.  

Additionally, I will be speaking at the SPECTRUM parent support group monthly meeting on Thursday, October 3 at 6:30 pm.  

Have your own event for children with special needs? Submit it here for inclusion in future events lists.

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