Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lessons from the CADRE Symposium Part IV #Restorative Remedies

One of the things that I do is train hearing officers, mediators and state complaint investigators for state education departments. I also have a large network of fellow hearing officers, mediators and state complaint investigators. We often compare notes.

A matter that hearing officers and investigators often find challenging is fashioning appropriate remedies or relief in cases where the parent or student prevails. The hearing officer and investigator have broad power to fashion appropriate equitable relief when IDEA has been violated. Forrest Grove Sch Dist v. TA 557 U.S. 230, 129 S.Ct. 2484, 52 IDELR 151 (U.S.  6/22/9). However,  reimbursement requires balancing three factors, and compensatory education can be difficult to calculate when the parties rarely offer evidence of educational harm

Crafting a remedy is particularly difficult in cases involving procedural violations where compensatory education may not be called for or where reimbursement is not appropriate. Also the relief rarely affects the ongoing relationship issues that are so important when considering the future education of a child.

In a recent post (which you can review here), I described a great panel session at the CADRE Symposium last month that discussed Restorative Justice and its application to special education. One of the panelists on that panel was a state investigator who had issued a state complaint decision requiring the school district, that had failed to comply with IDEA discipline requirements, to provide training to its staff - including training on alternatives to traditional discipline- including restorative justice. The remedy was appropriate given the violation, and it is a creative way to address the problem.  You can and should read the state complaint investigator's decision here.

I believe that in the near future, you will see more hearing officers and investigators fashioning relief where the parents win that requires restorative justice in various ways, whether in conjunction with compensatory education or reimbursement or not.  Unlike other remedies, restorative remedies or training in restorative justice has the potential to help heal the relationship issues so often present in these cases. I believe that this would be a good thing for children with disabilities.

Have any of you seen other examples of restorative relief in a hearing officer decision or complaint investigator report? If you do come across other  decisions with this type of relief, please send them to me.

What do you think about restorative remedies?

Monday, November 23, 2015

NEW Weekly Question!

According to Howard Zehr, "Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in the specific offense, and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible." Does restorative justice have a place in special education: re bullying, student discipline, remedies. etc? What do you think?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Lessons From the CADRE Conference - Part III Restorative Justice #RJ

There were many excellent concurrent sessions at the amazing CADRE Symposium in Eugene, Oregon in October. In fact it was difficult to choose a session to attend because you would be missing other great sessions.

My favorite concurrent session, after my own, was a panel on the application of restorative justice to special education dispute resolution organized by my friend, John Inglish of the Oregon Department of Education. The panel did a great job. Although I will try to briefly summarize some key points here, but to get a better flavor for restorative justice and its application to special education dispute resolution, I strongly encourage to view the CADRE webinar video below on this topic.

According to Howard Zehr, "Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in the specific offense, and to collectively identify and address harms, needs,  and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible."

Restorative justice replaces questions such as "what rules or laws have been broken" with "who has been hurt;"  "who broke the rules," and "what do they deserve" with "who has been hurt," "what do they need," and "who has the obligation to address the needs and put right the harm." The work of restorative justice is generally is done in a circle- involving the "offender," the "victim" and others who have an interest. The process has worked well in Native American cultures, as well as in our own Juvenile Justice system.

The panel explained the process and included a student and parent who used a restorative justice circle successfully and have now become advocates for the system. The panelists suggested that the use of restorative justice might have application in cases of bullying and of discipline of students with disabilities- two topics we all deal with daily.

In my next post, we will examine the panel's suggestion of the possible application to special education dispute resolution. This suggestion really has me excited!

You can view the session materials here. A video used by the presenters is available here. You can view the CADRE  webinar video  that preceded this session but covers some of the topics here.  You can read a transcript of the webinar here. The power-point accompanying the webinar is available here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Breaking: House-Senate Conference Committee Approves ESEA Framework #ESEA #NCLB

Today a House-Senate conference committee approved a framework for reautohrization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, One might say that No Child Left Behind has been left behind! (NOTE of personal {well not really privilege}: In working as a graduate assistant while obtaining my master's degree in public policy, I had to read hundreds of conference committee reports. Not great reading!). The very old law has a new name the "Every Child Succeeds Act." This replaces the house version "Student Success Act, " and the Senate version "Every Child Achieves Act." A rose by ant other name... {Insert your own joke about Congress here.}

Here are some quotes for the congressional education leaders: 

No Child Left Behind has been failing students, parents, teachers, and state and local education leaders for far too long, and today we took an important step in replacing this flawed law,” said Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN). “But there is still work to be done. We now have to turn this framework into a final bill for our House and Senate colleagues to review. I am confident that once they do, they will see it as an opportunity to replace a failed approach to education with a new approach that will reduce the federal role, restore local control, and empower parents. We will continue to work with all of our colleagues in the House as we move this important process forward.”
“The winners today are 50 million children and 3 million teachers in 100,000 public schools,” said Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN). “Our action would restore to states, communities, and teachers the responsibility for improving student achievement. This is a bipartisan step forward to fix the No Child Left Behind law that everyone wants fixed. The United States Senate and House of Representatives should complete our work in December so that the president can sign it into law before the end of the year.”
“With today's vote by the conference committee to reauthorize the ESEA, we have moved closer to advancing the principles of Brown v. Board of Education, which said that the opportunity for a public education 'is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms,'” said Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA). “This agreement ensures that when achievement gaps are found, meaningful action will be taken to intervene and support the needs of students. It ensures that funds will continue to be directed to communities and give teachers and schools the resources they need to support all students. I look forward to the vote by the House and Senate that will send President Obama a bill that is indeed worthy of his signature.”
“Taking this next step to finally fix the broken No Child Left Behind law is great news for students, parents, teachers, and communities in my home state of Washington and across the country,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “I am proud that our agreement includes strong federal guardrails to ensure all students have access to a quality education, reduces reliance on high-stakes testing, makes strong investments to improve and expand access to preschool for our youngest learners, and so much more. I appreciate the hard work that so many Democrats and Republicans have put into this agreement, and I am optimistic that it can pass both chambers of Congress and get signed into law to help more students across the country get the chance to learn, grow, and thrive in the classroom and beyond.”

You can read a summary of the agreement here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Breaking: Feds Issue New Guidance: IEPs Should Align With Grade-Level Standards #FAPE

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services of the U. S. Department of Education issued a new Dear Colleague Letter yesterday stating that IEPs must be aligned to a state's content standards for the grade in which the student is enrolled.

The guidance document states, "Research has demonstrated that children with disabilities who struggle in reading and mathematics can successfully learn grade-level content and make significant academic progress when appropriate instruction, services, and supports are provided. Conversely, low expectations can lead to children with disabilities receiving less challenging instruction that reflects below grade-level content standards, and thereby not learning what they need to succeed at the grade in which they are enrolled..."

"Based on the interpretation of “general education curriculum” set forth in this letter, we expect annual IEP goals to be aligned with State academic content standards for the grade in which a child is enrolled. This alignment, however, must guide but not replace the individualized decision-making required in the IEP process. In fact, the IDEA’s focus on the individual needs of each child with a disability is an essential consideration when IEP Teams are writing annual goals that are aligned with State academic content standards for the grade in which a child is enrolled so that the child can advance appropriately toward attaining those goals during the annual period covered by the IEP. In developing an IEP, the IEP Team must consider how a child’s specific disability impacts his or her ability to advance appropriately toward attaining his or her annual goals that are aligned with applicable State content standards during the period covered by the IEP. For example, the child’s IEP Team may consider the special education instruction that has been provided to the child, the child’s previous rate of academic growth, and whether the child is on track to achieve grade-level proficiency within the year."

The guidance does note that a small number of children with the most significant cognitive disabilities will continue to take the alternate assessment, and it state further "In a case where a child’s present levels of academic performance are significantly below the grade in which the child is enrolled, in order to align the IEP with grade-level content standards, the IEP Team should estimate the growth toward the State academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled that the child is expected to achieve in the year covered by the IEP. In a situation where a child is performing significantly below the level of the grade in which the child is enrolled, an IEP Team should determine annual goals that are ambitious but achievable. In other words, the annual goals need not necessarily result in the child’s reaching grade-level within the year covered by the IEP, but the goals should be sufficiently ambitious to help close the gap. The IEP must also include the specialized instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability necessary to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the State academic content standards that apply to all children in the State."

You can read the entire guidance document here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

New Weekly Question!

How would you rate the quality of writing by professionals in the field of special education dispute resolution? What would you suggest to improve the quality of hearing officer decisions, state complaint investigator reports, mediation agreements, etc?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lessons From the CADRE Symposium - Part II #appreciative inquiry

This is the second post pertaining to lessons learned at the CADRE Symposium in Eugene, Oregon in October. As always the outstanding conference was a huge success.

It is amazing just how much information was available at this conference. Although I can hardly do it justice here, I wanted to take the time to do a few posts relating some of the educational materials that resonated with me. 

The first keynote speakers, Pru Sullivan and Miriam Novotny, addressed the topic of appreciative inquiry. The are very entertaining and dynamic speakers. I also attended their separate concurrent session.

Appreciative inquiry was a new concept for me. It involves a positive, appreciating component- valuing and appreciating strengths, as well as recognizing that our questions are vitally important (with our questions we make the world.) They spoke about the art of the question and about "preframing" or a positive reframe. They provided guidance on how to craft questions. (This portion of their presentations was very useful for mediators as well as others.)

But what really struck a chord with me was their idea that appreciative inquiry could be applied to IEP team meetings. They have experimented successfully with this concept. One key point here: they suggested that we focus on a child's strengths. One problem is that we tend to obsess about a child's "needs" which we equivocate with weaknesses or deficits.  A strength based approach might yield a better outcome of children with disabilities.

Now I can hear you saying - but the law...the law... And to be clear I am not advocating a radical departure from the way things are done. You still need present levels and everything else the regs say has to be in an IEP.

The point is, however, that we should maybe spend some more of our IEP team time on the child's strengths. Maybe a bit more  than the one sentence on the form about strengths.  What do you think?