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

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 

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

NEED SOME SUMMER RESOURCES AND IDEAS?

The school year will be ending soon. What will your child be doing with all their free time? It may not be too late to find some great resources.

Start by asking your child’s teacher, other parents and your district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) for their recommendations for summer programs and/or camps.  Also consider reaching out to your local recreation department, community groups, zoos, religious organizations, the YMCA, Girl/Boy scout organizations, local museums and libraries. Many of these organizations have programs designed for and/or suitable for children with special needs.

summer

Here are links to some great programs and resources:

Summer Fun Camp Directory – Complied by the Federation for Children Special Needs. This directory provides links to over 200 camp websites serving children with disabilities.   

All out Adventures – This program offers outdoor recreation for people of all abilities. They have programs including biking, kayaking and camping.  

VSA Arts of Massachusetts - is a statewide organization that aims to make arts accessible to a broader audience.

Access Recreation Boston – Access Recreation Boston is a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to increasing and enhancing recreation opportunities for people with disabilities in the greater Boston area. 

Super Soccer Stars Shine - Super Soccer Stars Shine Program uses soccer as a vehicle to teach life skills to individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities including but not limited to, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Down Syndrome, ADHD and PDD-NOS.

Disclaimer: None of our comments in this blog should be construed as a testimony or guarantee of any of the programs identified. Individuals retain the services of these programs at their own risk.