Friday, January 27, 2012

Update: New Interim Director of Special Education for Georgetown

At the 1/26/12 School Committee meeting, Dr. Cathleen E. Estep was unanimously approved as our new Interim Special Education Director for Georgetown. The appointment required a joint approval by both Superintendent Carol Jacobs and the School Committee.

Dr. Estep has extensive experience in Special Education, and in fact, plans to retire after a 30+ year career at the end of this school year. Her last nine years were spent as Director of Pupil Services for the Burlington Public Schools in Burlington, MA. Dr. Estep will be working two days a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus one Wednesday a month for the Georgetown School District for the remainder of this school year.

The Georgetown SEPAC would like to congratulate and welcome Dr. Estep to our Special Education Community at our next SEPAC Meeting, which will be on FEBRUARY 14th, Tuesday night, 6:30-8:00pm, at the Penn Brook Library, 68 Elm St.

Please join us that evening to welcome, meet, greet, and speak with Dr. Estep. Bring any general questions you may have for her, along with ideas for what you see as important directions for our Special Education Department to develop in. New understanding, positive direction and fruitful progress for our overall special education programs depends on establishing an open, vital, mutually respectful, and continuing dialog between parents and our school administration. Come be part of the discussion!

We can also have fun wishing each other a Happy Valentine's Day! Light refreshments will be served, but any homemade Valentine's goodies will be welcome!

Monday, January 16, 2012

SEPAC 1-10-12 Meeting Minutes

Georgetown Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) Meeting
Meeting Minutes, January 10, 2012 – 7:00pm, Penn Brook Library

January 10, 2012 – Georgetown SEPAC Meeting, 7-9pm, Penn Brook Library, 68 Elm St.: Bullying Prevention & Special Education
Did you know that while bullying is a problem for all students, special needs students suffer disproportionately? MA General Law 71 defines bullying as… defines bullying as “the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a victim…” Richard Lavoie’s film, “Last One Picked…First One Picked On,” will help us better understand how students with special needs fare socially. “For most children, playing with friends is a daily ritual. But kids with learning disabilities are often isolated and rejected, lacking the social skills to make and keep friends. This 62 minute film will show how to help these kids succeed in everyday situations LAST ONE PICKED…FIRST ONE PICKED ON give parents and teachers greater understanding of social skills deficits and specific strategies for developing and fostering social competence.”
Before we show the film, Ms. Julie DeRoche, Director of Curriculum for the Georgetown School District, will speak for about 30 minutes on our district’s bullying prevention plan, professional development for teachers on bullying prevention, and how we as parents can support our children.

The Georgetown SEPAC thanks Georgetown District Curriculum Director Julie DeRoche very much for sharing with us her summary of the current Bully Prevention Curriculum our district has place. Ms. DeRoche noted that extensive teacher training in anti-bullying curriculum and classroom management techniques take place at regular faculty meetings as well as professional development programs. One focus has been on identifying “gateway behaviors,” such as eye-rolling, kids left to themselves, excessive giggling, and learning how best to respond to those in order to prevent bullying situations. Another concern of faculty has been how to teach children to advocate for themselves or others, how to speak up in dangerous situations to an adult for help. One parent questioned, “If we think our child is being bullied, who should we go to?” “That is a question many parents wonder about. I would advise first contacting your child’s teacher. If the problem continues, you should contact the school adjustment or guidance counselor, and then the school principal.” The handout Ms. DeRoche brought included the following information:

Georgetown Public Schools
2011-2012 Bullying Prevention Curricula
Perley & Penn Brook
• Bullying prevention curricula: Bully-proofing Your School – Thematic lessons include
o Friendship
o Making and Keeping Good Friends
o Caring Acts
o Kindness
o Concept of Bullying
o Rules of Bully-Proofing the Classroom
o Teaching Strategies for Victims
o Teaching Strategies for Helpers/Bystanders
o Creating and Maintaining the Caring Majority
o Collaboration with Parents, Family, and the Community
• Integrated lessons are taught in Physical Education classes (carry over to sports)
• Responsive Classroom Program, which teachers cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
Georgetown Middle and High School
• Bullying prevention curricula: Bully-proofing Your School, taught in Wellness Classes, which are required at every grade level. Thematic lessons for the Middle School include:
o Adolescent Development
o Bullies, Victims, and Bystanders
o Teasing and Sexual Harrassment
o Avoiding Victimization
o Creating Caring Communities
Thematic lessons at the High School include:
o Legal and personal consequences of bullying
o Bystanders
o Emotional Impact of Bullying
o Bystanders: How to be part of the solution and not the problem
• 6 additional bullying prevention lessons for the high school were created and added to Bully-proofing Your School during district Professional Developments through collaboration between Guidance and Health teachers.
• Monthly staff meetings are held to assess and improve on the implementation of these lessons.
Resources and Training: - MARC: Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center-Bullying and Cyberbullying Prevention - MARC: Parent Resources - What To Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied, and more….

Everyone was fascinated by Rick Lavoie’s movie! Here are a few notes from it:

“Last One Picked…First One Picked On”
The greatest pain parents have does not spring from their children’s academic deficits, it comes from their social deficits.

Academic deficits affect your child in certain situations. A math or reading problem is not an issue at soccer. But social deficits affect the child in every situation, so there is no getting away from them.

People with particularly good social skills often make the worst teachers of social skills, because they cannot break down the skills for kids in order to teach them. The skills come too automatically to people who are socially comfortable. We assume a child will understand something that we teach them, but unless we have the vocabulary to break the behavior down step-by-step for them, they don’t. We have a hard time teaching what we don’t have to think about doing.

Learning disabled (LD) kids must be taught everything step-by-step.

The way most adults get interactions and conversations going is by asking questions of each other, through interrogation. That is extremely difficult for LD kids. Conversations for LD kids usually consist of a few declarative sentences, no questions. This causes huge social problems for them.

One big misconception that people have about kids with ADHD is that they have short attention spans. Many ADHD kids will hyper-focus on some things, often highly visual stimuli. In fact, high distractibility much more often characterizes ADHD kids than a short attention span. A child with a short attention span pays attention to almost nothing, and often functions at a lower cognitive level. A child with high distractibility pays attention to everything, often at a high cognitive level. Everything interests the highly distractible child, which leads them to view the world with a wide-angle lens. This lens can produce great creativity and energy. But when the world is requiring the child to focus on one thing in particular for a long time, that creates a challenge. For instance, instead of hearing a whole lecture, the child’s mind will start out on the lecture, then move to someone’s watch, their clothes, the curtains, the clock, etc.

Many children with learning differences often have disinhibition, which means that their inhibitory responses are low. Whatever is on their mind, comes out their mouth. There is no “edit” button on their speech. This is a huge social deficit that creates problems.

The impulsivity that ADHD kids experience produces an attitude in school, “If I can’t do it right, I’ll do it fast.” Ready, fire, aim. Thoughts of consequences are minimal. This also causes social problems.

In order to help our children learn from social situations, we help them conduct a “social skills autopsy.” What is an autopsy? A postmortem examination to discover the cause of death or the extent of disease. What is a “social skills autopsy”? A post social situation examination to discover the cause of a social situation gone awry. What was the action that caused the problem? What social choices could have been made that might have resulted in a better situation?

Two researchers, Fox and Weaver, broke students down socially into four groups:
- the rejected
- the ignored
- the controversial
- the popular (a person who others say they like even if they don’t know him)
Then they studied the popular group to find out what do these kids are doing right. What positive behaviors do they exhibit that make others like them? The Seven Positive Behaviors were:
- smiling and laughing
- greeting others
- extending invitations
- conversing
- sharing
- giving compliments
- maintaining a good appearance
Teach these to your kids, and their social standing will improve.

In another study, they found teacher pleasing behaviors, which included:
- being punctual
- establishing eye contact
- participating in class
- using the teacher’s name
- submitting work on time
- using the required format
- not crossing a lot out
- requesting explanations
- thanking the teacher
Teachers see all of the above as common courtesy. Teach these behaviors to your child to help him get along better with his teachers.

General teachers at a certain school told special education teachers that the most important skills they wanted special education students to have in class were 1) listening, 2) following directions, 3) staying on task, and 4) knowing how/when to get help.

What is the “hidden curriculum of the school”? It is the unwritten, unspoken rules of the school which make up the culture of the school. Embarrassment is what adolescents fear most, and understanding the school’s hidden agenda is critical to avoiding that.

The key to raising adolescents is to realize that 1) you cannot win, and 2) adolescents are not to be embarrassed. Every day, your adolescent starts off their day with some form of the plea, “Please God, do not let me be humiliated today.”

Kids reject other kids that teachers reject. Teachers need to set the example in accepting special needs kids. It helps if a teacher rewards the whole class for one student’s accomplishments, for example, if a teacher might say, “Wow, John, you turned your homework in on time, in the right place. Terrific job. Now we’re all doing well at that, so let’s celebrate with a movie (or a game, or group work, etc).” Then the other kids feel that John helped them get a reward.

Kids think, “Wow, Mr. Jones likes John, he likes me, so maybe there is something to like about John.” A teacher’s acceptance of a child fosters mutual respect.

Parents need to prepare the child for the situation and the situation for the child. To do that, we need to see things from the child’s perspective.

Some relevant websites include: - article, Batteries NOT Included, “I can’t,” versus “He won’t.” - Jonathan Cohen on School Climate: Engaging the Whole Village, Teaching the Whole Child.

Recommended Books:
Motivation Breakthrough: 6 Secrets to Turning on the Tuned-Out Child, by Richard Lavoie, 2008, 416pp
It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success, by Richard Lavoie, 2006, 448 pp
The 6 Success Factors for Children with Learning Disabilities, by the Frostig Center, Foreward by Richard Lavoie, 2009, 232pp
Educating Minds and Hearts: Social Emotional Learning and the Passage into Adolescence, by Jonathan Cohen

Bullying, Prevention & the Law - The Georgetown School District’s Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan - MA State Laws - Wrightslaw: Bullying & Harrassment - Bullying and the Child with Special Needs

Let’s Get Along – Use kind words. Be quick to forgive. Listen. Share. Encourage others. Take turns. Think before acting. Talk it over. ☺

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A 504b Plan: The Right Choice for Your Child?

Are you wondering if a 504 plan can really help your child? That will depend on both the nature of your child's disability and what you, possibly your child, and the school district choose to do with it.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the precursor to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) enacted in 1990, protects the rights of disabled students with the 504b Plan. Section 504 prohibits programs that receive federal dollars from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. It requires public schools to make accommodations for eligible handicapped children, whether or not they qualify for special education services under IDEA. A 504b plan could therefore provide accommodations for children with disabilities in regular classrooms, such as multi-modal instruction, extra time for tests, providing examples, study guides, use of graphic organizers, facilitating small group work, checking in for comprehension, and changes in assignments and testing procedures. Accommodations change how a student is taught or tested, but not what they are taught or expected to know.

What is a 504b Plan?
A 504 plan is a legal document that outlines a plan of instructional services for students in the general education setting. It is an agreement between a public school, a student, and a teacher. The document usually describes the types of accommodations and instructional strategies that will be made for a student in school. Not all children with disabilities are entitled to services under IDEA, only those who are "eligible" under the specified disability categories, or those whose disabilities adversely impact their ability to access the general education curriculum. Section 504 is less discriminatory: it protects all persons with a disability who
1. have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as learning
2. have a record of such an impairment; or
3. are regarded as having such an impairment.

The Section 504 regulations further define a "physical or mental impairment" as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory including speech organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genito-urinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin or endocrine: or any mental or psychological disorder such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness and specific learning disabilities.

Federal law requires that students with disabilities be educated along with nondisabled students to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the students with disabilities. This means that students with disabilities must be assigned to regular courses or classes if the students’ needs can be met there. Also, decisions on academic placement must be based on an individual student’s needs.

A 504b Plan, once in place, will be reviewed by the 504 Administrator and a student’s parents on an annual basis.

Who qualifies for a 504b Plan?
Student with disabilities that do not significantly impair, but may still adversely affect, their access to the general curriculum or impede their academic progress, may qualify for a 504b Plan. For these students, it is not the standards or contents of the curriculum that need to be altered, but rather the way instruction is delivered.

Following are examples of students who may be protected by Section 504, but who may not be eligible for (IEP) services under the IDEA:
• students with communicable diseases (i.e., hepatitis)
• students with ADHD but no co-occuring disability
• students with temporary disabilities arising from accidents who may need short term hospitalization or homebound recovery;
• students with allergies or asthma;
• students with environmental illnesses/allergies/exposure to environmental toxins
• students who are addicted to alcohol or drugs, as long as they are not currently using illegal drugs
• students with disabilities who are 22 or older depending on state law

What kind of schools do 504b Plans apply to?
Section 504 has a specific set of regulations that apply to preschool, elementary and secondary programs that receive or benefit from federal financial assistance. These are found at Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 104. Thus Section 504 applies only to organizations that receive federal funding, while the ADA applies to a much broader universe. Both statutes are administered by the Office for Civil Rights and considered essentially identical.

Identifying and providing services for disabled children.
Parents or teachers may both request student evaluation for a 504b Plan. Requests should be submitted to the school’s 504b Administrator, which is often the school principal. Placement decisions must be made by a team that includes people who know about the student and understand the meaning of the evaluation information. The placement team must consider a variety of documented information for each student. Identifying and providing services for eligible children with disabilities requires specialized knowledge in many areas. Evaluators should make sure that evaluation is free of racial, cultural, and gender bias.

Advantages of a 504b Plan vs. an IEP
For students who do not require curriculum content adjustments to make academic progress, but who do benefit from specialized instruction and support, several services are available that special education students cannot access. These include Title 1 math & reading programs, literacy programs, and math support programs. Occupational therapist, social adjustment, and guidance counseling services are available to students on either an IEP or a 504.

What are teachers responsible for?
To be able to provide an appropriate education to all disabled children, teachers must be able to recognize the symptoms of disabilities, and know school procedures for referral and evaluation. Once a 504 Plan has been filed, teachers are responsible for carrying out the accommodations required by it. In addition to classroom and teacher strategies, reporting requirements to parents or administrators may be a part of the plan to be adhered to. Teachers must also know school policies for administering the medications that are sometimes part of treatment, how to monitor the effects of medication, and how to report effects to supervisors, parents, and professionals. Finally, teachers must know a variety of academic and behavioral strategies to help children with disabilities succeed in the classroom. Lack of teacher training in intervention strategies is potentially tragic for students, who may fail because their teachers don't know how to help them learn.

Procedural Safeguards
Schools must establish procedures that allow the parents or guardians of students in elementary and secondary schools to challenge evaluations, placement procedures, and decisions. The law requires that parents or guardians be notified of any evaluation or placement action, and that they be allowed to examine their child’s records.
If they disagree with the school’s decisions, parents or guardians must be allowed to have an impartial hearing, with the opportunity to participate in the discussions. A review procedure must be made available to parents or guardians who disagree with the hearing decision.

Nonacademic Services and Activities
Students may not be excluded on the basis of disability from participating in extracurricular activities and nonacademic services. These may include counseling services, physical education and recreational athletics, transportation, health services, recreational activities, special interest groups or clubs sponsored by the school, referrals to agencies that provide assistance to students with disabilities, and student employment.

Discrimination in counseling practices is prohibited. Counselors must not advise qualified students with disabilities to make educational choices that lead to more restrictive career objectives than would be suggested for nondisabled students with similar interests and abilities.

What happens at the college level to student disability rights?
A 504b Plan can be carried on to a public university, unlike an IEP. At private schools and colleges, only the ADA requirements apply. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities at work, at school, and in public accommodations, and is not limited (like Section 504) to those organizations and programs that receive federal funds. The ADA requires all schools, both public and private, to make reasonable accommodations for handicapped or disabled persons.

Section 504 Online Resources - Section 504 and IDEA - Finding Services and Supports Under the Law - Section 504 and ADA

Title 1 (reading & math) - US Dept. of Education, Title 1 description