TRANSPORTATION IN MASSACHUSETTS

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Your child is on an IEP but have you thought about any transportation needs?

If your child doe NOT require any special transportation accommodations due to their disability, they will be transported like any other child in the district.  

If your child does require special transportation de to their disability, it needs to be identified and explained in their I.E.P.  Sometimes the child can still receive the “regular transportation” as other students but might have an attendant or their bus might be equipped with a wheelchair lift.

School cancelled due to weather:

Be mindful of snow/weather days. In Massachusetts in the past years, school days have been cancelled due to temperature, snow and wind. Sometimes one district will be open and another may not. If the district that is responsible for transporting your child is closed and the receiving district is open; the transporting district does not have to make arrangements to transport the child to the open district.

But isn’t there a time limit on how long a student can be on a bus?

There is a lot misunderstanding about this time limit. In Massachusetts, the applicable law requires that transportation to a special education placement may not take longer than one hour each way, except with the approval of the team. 

Here is what the law (603 CMR 28.06(8)(a) says as of the writing of this post:

(8) Transportation Services. The term transportation providers shall include the driver of the vehicle and any attendants or aides identified by the Team. The school district shall provide a qualified attendant on each vehicle that transports one or more students in need of special education, when such attendant is recommended by the Team in accordance with 603 CMR 28.05(5)(b).

(a) The district shall not permit any eligible student to be transported in a manner that requires the student to remain in the vehicle for more than one hour each way except with the approval of the Team. The Team shall document such determination on the IEP.

(b) The school district shall give transportation providers clear, written information on the nature of any need or problem that may cause difficulties for a student receiving special transportation along with information on appropriate emergency measures that may be necessary.

(c) The district shall provide an in-service training program for transportation providers. Such training program shall acquaint transportation providers with the needs of the students they are transporting and shall be designed to enable the transportation providers to meet those needs. All transportation providers shall be required to complete such in-service training prior to providing transportation services to eligible students.

(d) The district shall make sufficient inspections of equipment and unannounced spot checks throughout the year to ensure compliance with these requirements, and with all applicable state and federal safety and equipment laws, including M.G.L. c. 90.

This law applies to both in-district and out-of-district placements where the student is placed through their IEP.  If the parents of the student insist on a private placement/school that is located more than one hour away or requires travel on roads/highways that are known for heavy and/or unpredictable traffic times – they cannot later argue that this is in violation of the one-hour.

 Be sure you review the Education Laws and Regulations regarding transportation before your child’s next IEP meeting. Here is the link.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

 

Special Education Surrogate Parents (SESPs)

There are many ways that you can support children identified as being “DCF” (Department of Children and Families) involved that is a child who receives supports and/or services from DCF. If you are unsure of who or what DCF is or what they do their website identifies them as a Department that “works in partnership with families and communities to keep children safe from abuse and neglect. In most cases, DCF is able to provide supports and services to keep children safe with parents or family members. When necessary, DCF provides foster care or finds new permanent families for children through kinship, guardianship or adoption.”

There are many ways DCF can become involved in a child’s life.

Here is a quick overview of some of the common types of DCF cases:

Voluntary services and supports – the family is intact and is working with DCF to either manage or correct identified issues/concerns.

Care and Protection (“C&P”) – in these cases DCF has removed the child(ren) from the parent and/or guardian’s care and is now the custodian of the child(ren). This removal could be temporary or could be permanent.

Child Requiring Assistance (“CRA”) – in these cases DCF focuses on the family and provides services to help the child remain with the family and in the community.

Sometimes when a child becomes DCF involved, their parent(s) lose the right to make decisions on their behalf related to education. That’s when a SESP steps in and helps…

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What is the SESP Program?

The SESP Program fulfills “the mandates of federal special education laws which require that procedures be in place to protect the special educational rights of all children who may require special education services, including those who are in the care or custody of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or whose parents are unknown or unavailable, and ensure that the rights of these children to benefit from a free and appropriate public education are protected.”

What is the mission of the SESP program?

The mission of the Special Education Surrogate Parent Program is to promote positive educational outcomes for children and youth in state custody by providing volunteers to represent their best interests in the special education process.

Who is a SESP?

Special Education Surrogate Parents are volunteers who act on behalf of an assigned student who receives Special Education services or needs to be evaluated in order to receive Special Education services.  You do NOT need any special training to be a SESP. You will receive training and support to do this very important work that has a life long affect on a child.

As a SESP you have the same rights and authority of a parent. You ‘step into’ the shoes of the parent to make all education related decisions on behalf of your assigned student until either the parent regains the decision making authority, the child is placed in foster care and the foster parent wants to make the education decisions, the child is no longer in DCF custody or the child turns eighteen.

What are some tasks you may be do for your student?

  • Meet with and observe the student at school.

  • Review all school records and receive progress reports.

  • Sign evaluation consent forms.

  • Attend education related meetings for the student and be involved in the planning and discussions regarding their special educational needs.

  • Approve an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the student.

  • Monitor student's services, progress and educational placement.

If you want to become involved and help make a difference in the lives of these children, consider applying to be a SESP yourself by clicking here.

Attorney Curran has served as a Special Education Surrogate Parent for many students since 2017.

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN EDUCATIONAL DETERMINATION AND MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS OF AUTISM?

Parents are often surprised to learn that a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) does not automatically entitle a student to special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).  It is important for parents to understand the differences between a medical diagnosis and an educational determination of eligibility for special education services so that they can appropriately advocate for their children.

Autism ASD

Medical diagnosis of ASD:

People with ASD tend to have communication deficits, such as responding inappropriately in conversations, misreading nonverbal interactions, or having difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age. In addition, people with ASD may be overly dependent on routines, highly sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on inappropriate items. Again, the symptoms of people with ASD will fall on a continuum, with some individuals showing mild symptoms and others having much more severe symptoms. This spectrum will allow clinicians to account for the variations in symptoms and behaviors from person to person.

A medical diagnosis of ASD is made by a doctor or other specially trained clinician by using symptom criteria set in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). DSM-5 eliminated the subcategories established in the DSM-IV and grouped all the conditions under the name of Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Under the DSM-5 criteria, individuals with ASD must show symptoms from early childhood, even if those symptoms are not recognized until later. This criteria change encourages earlier diagnosis of ASD but also allows people whose symptoms may not be fully recognized until social demands exceed their capacity to receive the diagnosis. It is an important change from DSM-IV criteria, which was geared toward identifying school-aged children with autism-related disorders, but not as useful in diagnosing younger children. Under DSM-5 the doctor/clinician is looking for symptoms that limit and impair everyday functioning, but this should be interpreted broadly.

Educational determination of eligibility:

By contrast, educational eligibility is decided by a team comprised of the student’s parents and various school professionals. The team must find that he student qualifies for services under IDEA. The purpose of IDEA is to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” See 20 USC section 1400(d)(1)(A)

Eligibility for special education services is based, rather, on an educational determination of a disability. The Team will consider the following questions to determine if a student is eligible :

  1. Is there a disability?  IDEA requires that the student have at least one of the fourteen specified disabilities and need special services.

  2. Is the student not making effective progress due to the disability? It is possible for a student to have a medical ASD diagnosis but not qualify for special education services. If this is true of your child, consider a 504 Plan where they could qualify for other services, such as accommodations.

  3. Does the student need specialized instruction to make effective progress?

  4. What related services does the student need to access the general curriculum?

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

SUSPENSIONS IN MASSACHUSETTS SCHOOLS

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What rights do you have if your student is being disciplined?

  • The school must contact you in your preferred language.

  • The school must offer to meet with you to discuss the situation and the consequence.

  • The school must allow your student to make up missed work if they are suspended.

  • The school is supposed to use discretion in deciding a consequence/resolution of the issue.

In-school suspension (removal from classroom) no more than 10 school days each year.

  • The school must notify you – in you in English and your preferred language – that it is suspending your student. The school must offer to meet with you on the day of the in-school suspension.

  • Before suspending, the school must tell your student the reason it thinks they broke the rules. Your student has the right to tell their side of the story. IF the school decides your student broke the rules and suspends them, the school must offer to meet with you to discuss your student’s academics, behavior and the best ways to get them back on track.

  • There is no right to appeal this suspension

  • Your student must be allowed to take any quizzes/tests missed during the suspension.

Short-term suspension (removal from the school) no more than 10 school days each year.

  • BEFORE the school can suspend your student, the school must notify you – in English and your preferred language – and invite you to a hearing.

  • At the hearing, the school must tell you why it plans to suspend your student and for how long. Your student has the right to tell their side of the story. If the school decides that your student broke the rules, you can suggest consequences other than suspension that better address the situation. For example, if your student allegedly vandalized a classroom; you could suggest that the student spend twenty-hours cleaning the school and/or school grounds.

  • There is no right to appeal this suspension

  • Your student must be allowed to take any quizzes/tests missed during the suspension.

IF your student was suspended once or several times over a school year for more than 10 total days, it counts as a long-term suspension and you have more rights see below.

Long-term suspension (IN or OUT of school)  more than 10 school days per year, served either consecutively or cumulatively. 

  • BEFORE the school can suspend your student, the school must notify you – in English and your preferred language – and invite you to a hearing.

  • At the hearing, the school must tell you why it plans to suspend your student and for how long. Your student has the right to tell their side of the story. You have the right to bring an attorney or an advocate to the hearing. You have the right to present your own evidence, question the school’s witnesses and bring your own witnesses.

  • If the school decides that your student broke the rules, the school must show that it tired an alternative to suspension before it can suspend. For example: mediation, conflict resolution, positive interventions/supports and restorative justice.

  • If you disagree with the school’s decision, you can appeal it. The school must put in writing their reasons for suspending your student and explain how you appeal. You have five (5) days to appeal unless the school agrees, in writing, to a longer time period.

  • Your student has the right to be educated during the suspension. If your student is being suspend for more than 10 days in a row, the school must provide other academic options to your student.

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com 

EDUCATION ADVOCATES EMPOWER PARENTS ...

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A good advocate takes time to know your child …

It is important for your education advocate/attorney to meet the student. Most of the time this can be done at home or at the advocate/attorney’s office. In order to advocate zealously for the student, we need want to have a sense of who the student is as an individual so that we can better understand their educational strengths and difficulties. This will help us understand whether or not their current IEP goals and benchmarks are both unique and complimentary to the student.

Another reason it is important for your advocate/attorney to get to know the student is so that the student’s voice is heard. Maybe they don’t like math and their struggles are not the result of an unidentified learning disability but instead their disinterest. Maybe they are experiencing bullying and are too embarrassed to tell their parents/guardians. The student’s relationship with the advocate is just as important as the advocate’s relationship with their parents/guardians. Sometimes what is in the best interest of the student is not what the parents/guardians want so it will be vital to have some insight to what the student wants to help resolve any real or perceived conflicts.

We empower parents/guardians by...

Education Advocates/Attorneys are great to help the student and their parents/guardians through a tough situation. We can help you carefully read your student’s school records, testing, and IEP. We can help you draft letters to the appropriate school personnel. We can help you prepare for an IEP meeting ~ in some instances we may even attend the meeting with you. We can often see solutions not immediately obvious to other people. We can be neutral parties to help break the tension and distrust that may exist between the interested parties. We can provide information about special education options, requirements and programs.

However, our goal is to educate the parent/guardian so that they understand the special education process. This way the parent/guardian can become a better advocate for their own student.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

Transition Planning... dos and don'ts

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What does “Transition” mean?

Transition plans for a student’s post high school life. Transition planning should focuses on the student’s academic and non- academic courses and learning experiences, employment and related training opportunities, as well as their community living, and leisure activities.

In Massachusetts Transition Planning starts at age 14 and should include:

  • Includes experiences both in school and in the community

  • Helps define direction/vision

  • Seeks opportunities for skill development

  • Focuses on the youth’s strengths, preferences, and interests

Experts and advocates say that high schools can do more to help improve the situation, though. Good transition planning and services can help special education students flourish after high school. The best transition planning requires several things, according to experts:

  1. An accurate and thoughtful assessment of a student’s abilities and interests.

  2. Clear, measurable goals related to his or her post-secondary aspirations.

  3. Appropriate support and services to help them achieve their goals.

Putting the plan into action 

Federal law says schools are supposed to make sure students follow the steps in their plans, but there is no one watching to make sure they do. “One of the most frustrating things is there’s not services to back up the goals, even if the goals aren’t bad,” Blaeuer said. “It’s very perfunctory.”

Parents often have to take on the burden of making sure their children are getting the support they need to meet their transition goals because schools simply don’t devote enough resources to this part of special education. Some schools have a full-time coordinator focused on transition services. More commonly, special education teachers — who already have a full teaching load — are in charge of overseeing transition plans.

Some good resources related to transition planning:

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Special Education: Transition from School to Adult Life.

Federation for Children with Special Needs - the Link Center

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

NEXT-GENERATION MCAS...IS YOUR STUDENT READY?

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Whether we like it or not, MCAS is here to stay; at least for the foreseeable future. Beginning in Spring 2019 the new version of MCAS called “Next-Generation MCAS” will be given to all grades and it will be administered exclusively on computer (with paper versions as accommodations).  Next-Gen MCAS is the first major revision of the MCAS test since it was first administered. The next-generation MCAS is designed to assess whether a student is prepared for academic work at the next level and is therefore forward-looking. The current MCAS remains a requirement through the class of 2019.

Why is there a new version of MCAS?

The new version combines the ‘best’ features from PARCC and the almost twenty-year-old MCAS assessment. The new version is meant to align with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, introduces new types of questions/items to more “deeply assess the standards”; focuses on students’ critical thinking abilities, application of knowledge and ability to make connections between reading and writing. Next-Gen MCAS still focuses on English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics and Science and Technology/Engineering. The tests results are meant to provide reliable feedback on whether students are on track for success after high school.

Who takes MCAS?

Every student receiving a publicly funded education in Massachusetts, regardless of the setting, must participate in MCAS testing. For students with an IEP or 504 Plan, the Team decides how the student will participate: without accommodations, with accommodations or MCAS-Alt. 

New Accessibility features and accommodations:

Universal Accessibility Features (UF):  These modifications to the test environment are available to ALL students and include the use of highlighters, scratch paper, untimed test and repeating or clarifying instructions.

Designated Accessibility Features (DF): These modifications include things such as small group testing, different testing room/setting; 1:1 testing; and allowing student to have frequent breaks. These flexible test administration procedures may be used with ANY student, at the discretion of the principal.  You may specifically ask for DF items on your child’s IEP – put it on the ‘additional page’ of the IEP.

Accommodations (A): Accommodations have not been changed. Students with disabilities are still able to incorporate accommodations that they need and use routinely in the classroom. The Team should list these accommodations on the child’s IEP/504 Plan.

For more information about accessibility features and accommodations click here

Next Gen MCAS "Achievement Levels"

The new standards for Meeting Expectations are more demanding than the standards for the old-MCAS. What does that mean? DESE predicts that more students will struggle to pass Next-Generation MCAS. Their reasoning for keeping it this way is “The next-generation MCAS is designed to assess whether a student is prepared for academic work at the next level and is therefore forward-looking. This is a different expectation for students, because the older MCAS looked at a student's level of preparation for the grade level in which they were tested.”

Please visit the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's website to learn more about the Next-Generation MCAS' scoring by clicking here.

What can you do to help your child?

Reach out to your child’s teacher and find out where your child needs to focus/practice; ask about MCAS prep classes and/or other opportunities being offered by the school/district to help support students who are not succeeding according to the test’s results.

Review your student’s IEP/504 Plan to make sure that it identifies individualized, specialized instruction or support that allows them to both access and learn the general curriculum as well as any skills required to make progress with the general curriculum.

Sometimes we try to shield our children from ‘undue stress.’ We highly recommend that you do not pull your student from lower grade MCAS testing. Allow them to participate and see what it is like to sit for the test. By the time they get to high school, where the test results have the most impact and consequences, you do not want them trying it for the first time. Remember students with disabilities must pass MCAS and fulfill all other graduation requirements in order to receive a diploma.

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

"EFFECTIVE" COMMUNICATION TIPS

Pick up almost any parenting magazine and you'll read that when parents are involved in their child's education; their child does better in school.  So what are some tips and tricks to make sure you are appropriately involved and effectively communication with your child's classroom teacher and/or supports? 

Start each new school with a positive presumption that the school, the teachers, and any/all of the supports that interact with  your child has the best intentions towards your child. Remember no one goes into education with the intention of harming or otherwise interfering with a child's potential. 

By being an active and better listener. Try and improve the communication you are having with people. Always be mindful of the forum that that conversation is happening (i.e. Email, text, phone, face-to-face). Sometimes we misconstrue meaning and tone when its written so don't jump to conclusions - ask for clarification.  (i.e. I just don't understand what you are saying. Can you explain it in a different way or provide an example?)

Be open with you child's teacher - tell them about your child's strengths/weaknesses as a student; what do they like/dislike about school, what motivates your child when they are having difficulty. Don't paint an unrealistic or slanted  description of your child. Tell them what your hopes are for your child as well as your fears. Early in the school year, establish regular avenues of communication - maybe its a weekly email, notes back and forth in your child's daily planner or whatever else is most convenient for you and the teacher.  Be realistic with your expectations! Your child's teacher means well and will try their best but they have a lot of things to accomplish in a day. 

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If there is a disagreement - stay focused on the child, focus on positives/strengths, be clear about goals, listen, ask questions and clarify. Try to break the tension by asking How and What questions... how can we provide more supports so that she is not out of her Reading class daily?  What are some of Jane's skills in reading that we we can build upon to strengthen her skills in....? 

Acknowledge the effort of others. Negotiate. Be honest. Don't interrupt or talk over people. Talk with the people involved, not at them. Summarize your meeting (at the end of the meeting and follow up with an email that summarizes what you think was agreed to etc.) 

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

TESTS RELATED TO READING

Many children have difficulty with reading, writing, or other learning-related tasks at some point, but this does not automatically mean they have learning disabilities. A child with a learning disability often has several related signs, and these persist over time. The signs of learning disabilities vary from person to person.

Here is an incomplete list of some of the COMMON signs that a child MAY have learning disabilities:

  • Problems staying organized.

  • Poor coordination.

  • Problems with math skills.

  • Difficulty with reading and/or writing.

  • Problems paying attention (staying focused).

  • Difficulty remembering information and time-related skills/tasks.

  • Trouble following directions.

If your child is having difficulty with reading and has some of the common signs identified above, speak to their teacher about having them evaluated. 

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Reading is considered by many to be the most important literacy skill. When your student is in the elementary grades, most of their school day focuses on skill acquisition in reading. When your student moves on to junior and high school, it is presumed that they have reading skills. Your student receives the majority of their content subject information via reading. 

Reading is often an area of difficulty for students with disabilities. Young students may not learn the basic skills of reading at the expected rate; they may fall behind their classmates in their ability to decode and understand the written word. Older students who struggle may lack the skills needed to use reading as a tool for learning other skills and subjects.

Reading should be an area of major concern in special education assessment.  The Team should be asking “What is the student’s current level of reading achievement?” and “What are the student’s strengths and weaknesses in the various skill areas of reading?” The student’s reading skills should not be assessed solely to determine eligibility for special educations services but also for planning instruction… what does the student need to be successful?

INFORMAL ASSESSMENTS

Informal assessments of a student’s ability to read happens daily and across the subject matters in both general and special education classes. For questions about the mastery of specific academic skills, such as reading; the most valuable information sources may be criterion-referenced tests, informal inventories, classroom quizzes and teacher checklists. Please note that informal assessments may not be used to determine if a child is eligible for special education.

There are several informal assessments that can be used to evaluate a student’s reading ability. Speak to your student’s teacher(s) and/or the Team about a more inclusive assessment of the student’s strengths and weaknesses.  For example, the classroom teacher can do an informal reading inventory (IRI).IRIs assess both decoding and comprehension skills. They are made up of graded word lists and reading selections that he student reads orally. The tester notes any decoding errors and records the student’s answers to the comprehension questions accompanying each reading section. The results can be used to identify the student’s current reading skills in comparison to their current grade level.

Another tool that many classroom teachers use are checklists. The checklist can have any mixture of reading skills listed such as decoding, comprehension, silent reading, or oral reading. The results can help the teacher identify the student’s weaknesses and areas of need. The checklists can also be used later to help monitor progress in the development or improvement of these ‘areas of need.’   

Finally, another tool that can be quickly used by a classroom teacher to assess a student’s oral reading fluency, or the rate at which students are able to accurately decode words in oral reading tasks is by the use of CBMs or Curriculum-Based measurements. The classroom teacher can use any material, including the textbook, and ask the student to read a section aloud. While the student reads aloud the teacher will time and note any errors. If CBMs are done regularly the data can be tracked to show any progress being made by the student.

FORMAL ASSESSMENTS

There is a wide array of formal assessments that can be used to assess a student’s reading ability. This article is going to highlight just two of them as it would be impossible to identify and discuss all of them adequately. With any type of measure, the assessment tasks must be compatible with the skills of the student. No student should be asked to attempt tasks clearly above their current functioning level. The tools used should reward the student’s strengths rather than punish their weaknesses.

The Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests, Third Edition (WRMT-III). This test is made up several sub-tests that evaluate skills such as letter identification, word identification, phonological awareness and word comprehension. It helps to identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses in reading.

The Gray Oral Reading Tests, 5th Edition (GORT-5). This test has to versions, Form A and Form B. Each form contains 16 developmentally sequenced reading passages with five comprehension questions each. It helps assess a student’s ability to read passages aloud quickly and accurately with adequate comprehension.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP? 

Make reading fun again for your student. Read with them daily. If they are older, have a time during the day where everyone stops and reads and then after a set time, everyone discusses what they read with the others.  There are many studies that show when children read to animals, they are less self-conscious. So if you have an animal, encourage your student to read to them. Look into programs at your local library that encourage reading and teach children that reading is a fun activity. 

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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Here are suggestions to making Halloween enjoyable for all your children...

Talk to your child about what they might expect. Sometimes Halloween means your child is exposed to things that might frighten them: Haunted houses, scary costumes or noises. Talk to your child about things they might encounter during trick-or-treating, and practice self-calming skills in case they do get frightened while out that night.

Does your child have strict dietary restrictions?  Pick up some non-food items your child would enjoy and drop them off before hand at the houses you know you’ll be visiting.

If your child is non-verbal, Halloween can be a great opportunity to work on initiating communication! Program your child’s communication device to say “Trick or treat” or ask their teacher to design a picture symbol your child can use as he goes door to door.

Picking out the Right Costume. Kids with sensory issues may not be able to handle wearing costumes. Things like masks and make-up can make them feel very uncomfortable. Check the fabric of your child’s costume and make sure they are comfortable before going out. You can also dress your child in a familiar, cozy outfit and simply add a hat or paint their face.

Practice makes perfect! Before Halloween, put your child’s costume on and take a long walk around the house, or the neighborhood. 

The most important part of Halloween is your child’s experience. So don’t worry about how to make your child fit into "traditional" Halloween traditions.  Start a family tradition that works for your child.

FOUR SPECIAL EDUCATION TERMS EVERY PARENT SHOULD UNDERSTAND

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There is a lot to know as a parent  of a child receiving Special Education Services but there are four key terms that are apply in almost every instance so you should be familiar with them. They are:

1. Special Education

The term “special education” is defined as "specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including— (A) instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and (B) instruction in physical education." 20 U.S.C. s. 1401 (29)  Special Education Law is a needs based law. Everything in Special Education is based on data and assessment. 

2. Related Services

The term “related services” means transportation, and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services. This includes, but is not limited to , speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, physical and occupational therapy, social work services, counseling services as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes the early identification and assessment of disabling conditions in children. 20 U.S.C. s. 1401 (26) 

3. Free Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE")

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) provides that each eligible child is entitled to a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE). This terms is defined as: 

special education and related services that— (A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge; (B) meet the standards of the State educational agency; (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and (D )are provided in conformity with the individualized education program...

4. Least Restrictive Environment ("LRE")

"Least Restrictive Environment" means that a child must be educated to the extent possible and appropriate in the least-restrictive setting possible when determining where and how services are to be delivered. 

The list below shows you in order the least restrictive to the most restrictive types of placements used in Massachusetts:  

  1. Regular Education Classroom (least restrictive)
  2. Resource Classroom
  3. Part self-contained 
  4. Self-contained classroom
  5. Day School
  6. Residential School
  7. Home-bound placement (most restrictive)

When we put all of these terms together the bottom line is …

School districts must provide a free appropriate public education for students enrolled in their districts. An appropriate education is an education and related services designed to meet the individualized educational needs of a child with a disability as adequately as the needs of non disabled children are met. 

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

GOOD EDUCATION ADVOCATES/ATTORNEYS ...

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A good advocate is well-trained and knows the law …

As Founder and Owner of E.M. Curran & Associates, LLC, Ellen uses her knowledge and experience in both the legal and education settings to guide students and their parents through the entire, complex special education process. Ellen holds a Juris Doctor from Suffolk University Law School (2000) and a Masters in Moderate Special Needs from Boston College’s Lynch School of Education (2010).  Ellen has been trained by the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN) and continues her professional development by attending events hosted by Wrights Law, SPaN, Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) and Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE).

A good advocate understands schools …

After practicing law for many years, Ellen decided to take a break and pursue other career options. Shortly thereafter, Ellen began teaching at an Alternative High School serving High-at-Risk teenagers in a very economically challenged urban setting in Massachusetts.  She taught in this environment for seven academic school years. All of her students had either an IEP or a 504 plan. Many were dealing personal issues on top of their educational difficulties. During this time, Ellen was responsible for drafting and implementing behavioral and emotional goals, IEP goals, behavior plans, transitions plans, and progress reports. She attended IEP meetings, transition meetings, and DCF meetings as well as parent and/or attorney requested meetings related to school, behavior, and learning concerns. Additionally, Ellen has taught pre-law undergraduate classes at a well-known local university for well over a decade.

So what we can do to help you and your student?

  • We can provide information about special education options and requirements, and can help you to seek a specific service or program for your child.

  • We can help you carefully read your child’s school records, testing information, and IEP.

  • Our work is driven by data and not our emotions. Of course we have your child's best interest at heart but as a third party, we are able to take that step back to analyze your child's evaluations and create a complete profile that is not swayed by our emotions or dealings with either side.

  • If you wish, and if it is appropriate, we may attend Team meetings with you.

  • A skillful advocate can often see solutions not immediately obvious to other people.

  • We can help you to become a better advocate for your own child

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

 

SOME SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO ORGANIZE AN IEP BINDER

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Over the years, I have tried several different ways to organize a student’s IEP data and other academic related information. The one tool that always works regardless of the amount of paper I’ve accumulated is a 3-ring binder. It may sound like a lot of work but once you have it set up, you can re-use the binder and its set-up year after  year.

What do you to get started: 

  1. 3-ring binder. I usually get a 2 or 3 inch binder but the size depends on how much paperwork you think your student will generate in the year.
  2. Some tabbed section dividers. I buy a set of 6 dividers, as well as two sets of the 8 dividers.
  3. A three hole punch, if you don’t have one.
  4. Some lined post-it notes. I like the medium sized ones but you should use whatever fits your needs best. 

First step:

Put the 6 sections dividers into the binder and label them. These are the labels I use:

  1. Current IEP
  2. Evaluations
  3. Communication
  4. Report cards/Progress Reports  
  5. Behavior/Discipline  
  6. Sample work
  • I divide Communication, Report cards/Progress reports, Behavior/Discipline and Sample work into the four school quarters using the section dividers from the two sets of 8 dividers I have already bought. 

Second step:

I gather all my paperwork together and sort into each of the sections. I file all documents in reverse chronological order - the most recent document on top. I also hand write in light pencil, bottom right of each document, the date I received/sent the document. 

Current IEP

In this section, I file the most current IEP, any meeting notices and my goal tracker sheet. I update the goal tracker sheet each quarter after I've received the progress report. 

Evaluations

If you are new to the process the first two documents will be your request for evaluation followed by your consent to evaluate. Again I keep this section in chronological order with the most recent report on top.  I sometimes forget what reports say in meetings so I usually create a table of contents for this section and will include a blurb or two of the key points in each report. I do NOT write on these reports. If a blurb is not enough I will put post-it notes with my notes in/on the section that is important.

Communication

In the first week or so of the new school year, I’ll reach out to my student’s classroom teacher and discuss what would be the most efficient way to have consistent communication regarding my student’s successes and difficulties. I have already divided this section into the four academic quarters, so whatever is agreed to, I print out copies of all communications and keep them in this section with the most current one on top.

If I find myself calling the school/teacher/etc. frequently; I will create a phone log and keep track of who I spoke with, the date/time and a summary of the discussion. I would file this phone log in this section too. I would also break the log up into the four academic quarters. 

Report cards/Progress Reports  

I have already divided this section into the four academic quarters. I file each report card and progress report accordingly in this file. I sometimes will put  my goal tracker in this section too just because it related to the progress reports. Either section is appropriate and you need to put it in a section that makes the most sense for you. 

I frequently review this section asking myself:  What is the data telling me? What data is missing?  What doesn't make sense that I need to follow up on. 

Behavior/Discipline  

My student's disabilities often come hand-in-hand with behavior/discipline issues. I keep a log for each academic period. The log tells me how often the student is escorted and/or restrained. How often the student is out of class, for what reason and what the resolution was of the issue. I also use these logs to help me understand if the student is making effective progress and whether or not the placement is appropriate. 

Sample work

I like to either ask the teacher for sample work or I collect papers that are sent home each quarter. I tried to have a couple of pieces of work from each class. I do not collect all bad or all good work. I try to collect work that reflects my student's strengths/weaknesses. This way I can have my own insight into their successes and/or difficulties that I can discuss with their teacher. 

Third Step - Optional Step:

Your binder should be individualized to your student and their needs. Here are some other sections and/or pages you could include in your binder....

Medical Section

If your child has a medical issue you should create another section and label it medical. In this section you could  include names/address/contact info for each doctor, a list of medications (as well as dosage and what it is for), doctors notes if  your child was sick etc

Summary Sheet

This sheet includes the student’s name, dob , grade, teacher’s name and contact info, Aides/Supports/etc. will also be listed here, the Team Chair’s name/contact info

Table of Contents

This sheet is exactly what it sounds like. I create a table of contents that breaks down each section and what documents are in each section. 

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com 

CURRENT ADMINISTRATION PLANS TO MERGE DEPT. OF EDUCATION AND LABOR

On Thursday June 21st, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released the following statement:

“President Trump campaigned and won with his promise to reduce the federal footprint in education and to make the federal government more efficient and effective. Today’s bold reform proposal takes a big step toward fulfilling that promise. Artificial barriers between education and workforce programs have existed for far too long. We must reform our 20th century federal agencies to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools.  I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality.”

The full government reform plan can be found here.

What does this mean? 

The reorganization plan, entitled Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century states that the current administration intends to merge the U.S. Department of Education into the U.S. Department of Labor.  “The Administration proposes to merge ED and DOL into a single Cabinet agency, the Department of Education and the Workforce (DEW). As part of the merger, the Administration also proposes significant Government-wide workforce development program consolidation, streamlining separate programs in order to increase efficiencies and better serve American workers.” The merger would be detrimental to all students, particularly students with disabilities and learning differences.  
The reorganization plan offers no specifics about the proposed merger of the Department of Education into the Department of Labor.  You need to almost twenty-four pages of the plan before you find one short paragraph that addresses K-12 education. Which states in relevant part:

The proposal would merge all of the existing DOL and ED programs into a single department, DEW, with four main sub-agencies focused on: K-12, Higher Education/Workforce Development, Enforcement, and Research/Evaluation/Administration. This would help create alignment throughout the education-to-career pipeline, while also creating coherence within the workforce development and higher education worlds.

The K-12 agency would support State and local educational agencies to improve the achievement of preschool, elementary, and secondary school students, including students with disabilities, Native American students, and English language learners. The agency would comprise improved ED K-12 offices that would better integrate across K-12 programs and more effectively coordinate with higher education and workforce programs. The K-12 agency would administer activities currently implemented by ED’s Offices of Elementary and Secondary Education, Innovation and Improvement, English Language Acquisition, and Special Education Programs. As described below, the Rehabilitation Services Administration would be moved to the Higher Education/Workforce Development agency

If you read the plan further, you will see a chart on page 26 that shows K-12 education and K-12 programs broken into two new separate administrative departments. If you look closer at the chart you will see that both of these new departments are no longer affiliated with the Office of Civil Rights, Research, Evaluation and Administration, and Higher Education Programs.   See chart below:

Since this administration has come to power, they have time and time again taken steps to undermine public education program. This latest plan is concerning since it is so vague that the reader is unable to ascertain what will happen to our children’s educational administration. There seems to be no consideration for the fate of students receiving special education services nor the impact this merger would have on the legal rights of students moving forward.

It has been established time and time again that the right of a student with a disability to a quality education is a fundamental civil right.  How each state interprets this right is often the cause of much controversy. The U.S. Department of Education has a long history of protecting the civil rights of students on a national/federal level. Merging the U.S. Department of Education as proposed would mark yet another significant departure in the protection of the civil rights of students with disabilities.

 

ARE YOU LEAVING YOUR CURRENT SCHOOL DISTRICT?

With the end of the school year rapidly approaching, it is time for some parents to think ahead to where their child will be living and educated in the fall.

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I frequently get asked what to do if you are moving your child to a new school district, so I think its a topic that needs a quick answer:

Whether you move to another town in the same state or a whole new state, your child's new school has a responsibility to obtain  your child's school records promptly. Some school districts allow you to pick up your child's records and bring them to the new school yourself - this is not allowed in every district. When you request that the documents be sent to the new school, ask how long this process usually takes and then schedule a call to the new school to confirm their receipt. 

The new school should review the child's current Individualized Education Plan (i.e. the IEP) to understand the child's diagnosis, special education services, related services etc that your child currently has in place to provide him or her with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). The new school needs to provide your child with services, placement, aids etc that are similar or comparable to what is stated in the child's existing IEP.  The new school cannot tell you that they "do not do that in their district." 

Tips:

  1. If you are moving to a new state, visit the state's Department of Education website and review that state's special education policies and laws. 
  2.  Your child's new school MUST  continue to provide your child's services with no delay, gap or other interruption.
  3. If your child's current IEP is going to expire at or near the time you plan to move, ask for the team to meet earlier to write the new IEP. (The new school would then have to adopt this IEP).
  4. Yes, your child's new school may do their own evaluation but they cannot unilaterally change the contents of the current IEP. 
  5. It might be helpful for your child's new teachers and aides to have an overview of  your child's strengths and weaknesses. Ask your child's current teachers and/or aides to if they would be willing to write a letter that you can share with the new staff. *Remember you should allow your child's new teachers/aides to get to know the child on their own. If you do get a letter do not use it as a 'weapon' when you disagree with the new staff.
  6. Schedule a visit to the school over the summer so that your child has time to get to used to the new building, layout and people. 
  7. Look into the district's parent supports: SEPACs, support groups, PTA, etc. Get involved so that you can build a network of people that you can look to for advice and feedback. 

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com