ANOTHER SCHOOL YEAR IS COMING TO A CLOSE ... THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

As the school year wraps up, there are still things you can do to help your student end on a positive note. Here are some suggestions:

Say "Thank You" to those who helped.

Many people contributed to your student’s progress. Some of their contributions were obvious such as the bus driver, the aide, and the classroom teacher. But do not forget about the many others that were there as a support such as the school nurse, the lunchroom staff, and the recess staff. You should ask your student who they think helped and supported them – you might hear a name you were not aware of.

Review your child’s IEP and progress.

Did your child make progress this school year? Did the school properly implement the IEP? Does the IEP adequately address your child’s needs? Do your child’s Goals prepare your child for further education, employment, and independent living?

Visit the new school or classroom.

Will your student be changing schools? Going from elementary to middle or middle to high school? Schedule a visit to the school before the first day of school. If necessary get your student’s schedule and practice how they will get from class to class; to the lunchroom and the bus/drop-off area.

Are you leaving the district?

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, aides, 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." 

Summer plans.

Is your student going to see and/or communicate with their friends during the break? If not try and set up some play dates before school ends so that your student has some reassurance of continued contact.

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

EXTENDED SCHOOL YEAR (ESY)

Extended School Year (ESY) programs are described under state and federal special education requirements and have been further interpreted through case law. Many find this topic confusing and challenging. Here are the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) we hear on this topic…

 What is ESY?

ESY is not the same thing as summer school. It is specialized instruction or related services that are a part of your child’s IEP. It is offered most typically during the summer school vacation period.

The services are individualized to help each child maintain his skills and not lose the progress he’s made toward his goals. For some kids, this may mean one-on-one tutoring. For others it may be a few sessions of occupational therapy or speech therapy each week. What ESY looks like for your child is a decision made by his IEP team.

Who is ESY meant for?

Not every child with an IEP requires an extended school year.

 All children "regress"--lose progress, forget, revert to previous behavior--to some extent between school years. It must be determined whether a child's regression would likely be substantial, and whether the child would require a greater than usual time to "recoup"--to get back to the level the child had achieved before a break in service.

 Decisions about ESY programs must be made on an individual basis, taking into consideration the unique needs of the child.

 What is the cost to me if my student needs ESY?

If ESY is included in your student’s IEP as a required service, it is at no cost to the parents/guardians.

When does the school need to decide if the student needs ESY?

At least once annually the child's Team must consider the need for an extended school year program and record its determination in the child’s IEP. A Team's determination regarding the need for an ESY program must be made on an individual basis.

 How do I figure out what my school district looks for in deciding if a student needs ESY?

Every school district must have a written policy and procedures regarding the provision of extended school year programs. The policy and procedures must detail the criteria used by a Team for individually determining the need for ESY programming. In order to ensure consistent staff implementation of its ESY policy, each school district must train all staff involved in Team evaluations to implement the ESY policy and procedures.

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

School Resource Officers ("SROs") in Massachusetts Schools

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A recent decision by the U.S. Department of Education (Department), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) , warns schools of the risks of using School Resource Officers (SROs) in educational situations. In this case Lynn used an SRO as a “support person” in dealing with a student whose behavior had quickly declined. 

Brief summary of the facts in the complaint:

During the 2014-2015 school year, the Student who was at the center of the complaint was on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for an emotional disability.  The Student was known to perseverate on problems and had focus issues. The IEP indicated she needed guidance to learn how to successfully regulate her emotions and would need to meet with the school adjustment counselor.

The first half of the school year, until about January, passed without incident or concerns.  Beginning in January 2015 and more noticeably in February, the Student began to decompensate. She struggled with her academics; she had an increase in absences, tardies and dismissals; and  was suspended at least 12 times during March and April for violations such as refusal to go to class, disruptive and disrespectful behavior, swearing, and wandering the halls. By comparison, the Student had no suspensions at the start of the school year.

At a Team meeting held at the start of May, it was determined that the behaviors resulting in the Student’s suspensions were related to her disability. It was also decided that the District should conduct a FBA and a 45-day assessment, but the team could not agree on a place for the assessment. The District wanted to place the Student at their in-district school for “educationally at risk Students who have not been successful in a traditional high school setting.” The Student and her representatives requested an out-of-district assessment and placement.  Since an agreement could not be reached, the team agreed to reconvene a week later to determine an appropriate placement.

Prior to the second meeting, the Student once again had difficulty attending class.  The Student went to the vice principal’s office and the SRO was called to assist. The social worker and vice principal explained to OCR that the SRO was often called as an additional support member for the Student to talk to. The SRO’s report from the incident stated that the Student’s refusal to attend class had been an ongoing issue in the school year, indicating he had some awareness of the Student’s challenges. The SRO brought the Student down to his office, where the school social worker stopped by. According to records and interviews, the Student became loud and squirted hand sanitizer on the social worker. The social worker left to go get the principal. The principal asked the Student to clean up the hand sanitizer and when he handed her paper towels, the Student smacked his hand away. The SRO then arrested the Student and removed her from the building. Following this incident, the Student did not return to the school.

So what is the role of the SRO in the District?

To better understand the role of SROs in the District, OCR requested any policies and documentation related to SRO involvement in the school. In response, the District provided OCR with a copy of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the District, the Lynn Police Department, and the Essex County District Attorney’s Office to “coordinate their response to violent, delinquent or criminal acts by Students, including weapons reporting and alcohol and other drug use, that occur on school premises, school buses, or at school-related events.” The MOU does not address the presence of SROs in the District. The MOU did not address nor did the District have any other internal policies related to District staff engaging an SRO with routine discipline matters. The District also stated that it did not maintain any records related to SRO involvement with Students in the school.

The Student’s informal supports included check-ins with the SRO, whom District witnesses explained was “often” called upon as a “support member” for the Student. The District continued to involve the SRO to provide support services to the Student after concluding that the behavioral issues (including combative behavior) were a manifestation of the Student’s disability – and prior to conducting further evaluation or changing the Student’s services to address her needs. While the SRO was a support person for the Student, the District should realize that involving an SRO in non-criminal matters comes with an added risk to the Student because the SRO’s primary responsibility is law enforcement and not ensuring a Student with a disability is provided with a FAPE. Here, the SRO arrested the Student for behavior that was similar to the behavior that only days before was found to be a manifestation of the Student’s disability – but which remained unaddressed by the District at this time. While a Student with a disability can be referred to the police for criminal behavior, it appears everyone noted that the Student was struggling and nothing had been done yet to assess how to address her needs when she was arrested. The District also lacked any policies on the involvement of SROs with Students with disabilities, and in this case, it does not appear that the SRO was made aware of the team’s manifestation determination.

Conclusion:

“Without clear policies, procedures, and record keeping with regard to SRO involvement with Students, the District cannot ensure that its use of SROs does not discriminate against Students with disabilities by, e.g., resulting in further exclusion for disability-related behavior.”   Although this does not create clear guidelines that should be implemented in Districts across the Commonwealth, it does clearly put districts on notice of the risk of involving SROs in school matters that do not include criminal behavior.

To helpful further clarify the role of SROs, the 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Act amends Chapter 69 of the Massachusetts General Laws, and has implications in our schools. The Act requires that schools enter into written agreements with local police departments regarding the role of the School Resource Officer, and that the agreement “shall state that SROs shall not serve as school disciplinarians, as enforcers of school regulations or in place of licensed school psychologists, psychiatrists or counselors and that SROs shall not use police powers to address traditional school discipline issues, including non-violent disruptive behavior.”

This is an area that will need to be monitored across the Commonwealth.

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

IT IS A NEW SCHOOL YEAR... BE PREPARED.

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What can you do to support your student?

Develop a “partnership” with your student’s teacher.

As a former classroom teacher, I can assure you that the teachers your student interacts with on a day-to-day basis went into education to make a difference in the lives of their students. When a conflict arises remember that everyone has your child’s best interests at heart and will want to do what is best for them. Try to remind yourself of this while working through conflicts.  

Stay involved with your student’s classroom schedule, activities and special events. Offer support to the teacher and follow through.  Ask your student questions about their school days so that you are not surprised when someone tells you there is a ‘big issue.’  

Encourage your older student to self-advocate.

For older students, encourage them speak up and self-advocate appropriately.  Sit down with your student and read over their together so that they know what it says and what it means.  Have them identify their strengths and weaknesses as well as strategies they think work for them. Make a copy of their accommodations from their IEP, laminate it or put it in a clear sheet protector and then put it in their binder/planner. Then talk to your student about when/how they should use this ‘cheat sheet’ to appropriately self-advocate. For example, maybe they have a substitute teacher who is not aware that you student gets time and a half to complete a test.

Acknowledge your student’s achievements and performance.

Have high but realistic expectations of your student’s school performance. Remind your student of your belief in their abilities and encourage them to develop healthy beliefs and attitudes about themselves. Celebrate their strengths and wins and support them when they have “misses” and/or weaknesses.

 Share your concerns about your student’s performance NOT with the student but instead with their teacher.

What can you do you stay organized and on top of your student's academic needs?

A. Get a large three ring binder and some separators 

B. Set up your binder so that it has a few relevant sections. These are the sections I use:

  1. Current IEP
  2. Correspondence. I break this down further into a section for emails, snail mail and phone logs. 
  3. Report Cards - Progress Reports. Again I break this down further into the four quarters
  4. Behavior
  5. Tests, Assessments and Evaluations. I never throw any of these materials out. 
  6. IEP Goal Tracking. I break this section into as many goals as the IEP states and then I track each goal by the quarter. 

C. Do not write on the originals. If you want to make notes, write them on post-its and put the post-its on the document.

D. Keep all documents in strict chronological order. 

I only keep the most current school year and one past year's worth of material in the binder at a time. I also create a table of contents so I can quickly find documents/information.  I bring this binder with me to all Team meetings. 

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

It's Back to School Time!

 

Here are some tips and suggestions to start the school year off on the right foot:

1.      Review your child’s current IEP

The IEP is the foundation of your child's educational program, so it's important that you have a clear understanding of it. Take the time to review your child’s IEP before the school year begins to make sure it still ‘fulfills’ the needs of your child. If you are unsure, contact the school and ask for a TEAM Meeting to discuss how the child has progressed and/or regressed since the writing of the IEP. Be sure that you mark on the calendar when the IEP expires and if your child is up for re-evaluation this year so that you can plan ahead and be prepared.

2.     Set up routines

With some children, just talking about the upcoming year and changes can help reduce some of that back-to-school anxiety! While other children, they would benefit from a clearly established routine to help alleviate their anxiety. You can even begin practicing your new schedule, focusing on morning and evening routines, and begin implementing them well in advance of the first day of school.

3.     Introduce yourself   

Make sure you introduce yourself to each individual who will be working with your child and not just the classroom teacher – the aide, speech/language, OT/PT, job coaches etc. Share with each individual, a “3-Minute” overview of your child. What are the child’s strengths, likes, positives? What are some interventions that work with your child? Share your contact information and willingness to be a partner and support in your child’s success in school. Be involved in school events such as Open House, Fundraiser/Community events, and parent-teacher conferences to help you and your child get a feel for the school and meet the teachers, other staff, students, and families.

 4.     Start a communication log

Keeping track of all phone calls, e-mails, notes home, meetings, and conferences is important. Create a "communication log" for yourself in a notebook that is easily accessible. Be sure to note the dates, times, and nature of the communications you have.

Also ask the teacher how they usually communicate with families. Do they send home a log (how frequently)? Do they send out weekly emails?  Find out what they are able to do and establish a clear request for that to happen regarding your child. Remember, teachers are busy so they cannot report on everything. You should expect highlights, summaries and when appropriate concerns.

Contact Attorney Curran to discuss any school related issues your child may have.

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