Alphabet Soup Part 3: FAPE

Have you ever heard of FAPE? Did you know it is part of a national law? FAPE stands for Free and Appropriate Public Education. It is part of IDEA (this will be part 4 of this blog series). FAPE mandates that school districts provide access to general education and specialized educational services. It guarantees that children with disabilities not have to pay for their necessary support as is provided to their non-disabled peers. In addition, it allows access to general education services for students with disabilities by allowing for support and related services take place in the general education setting as much as possible.

    

This is such an important piece of the law to understand as a parent. We as parents usually interpret the law to mean that public schools have to provide our child with the BEST education. This is simply not the case and leads to many misunderstandings. Usually the teachers and the schools want to provide the best they can for our students, but many obstacles can prevent us from seeing eye to eye. Money is usually the biggest. As the state of the economy continues to plummet, schools are seeing their budgets reflect that. Many services and technologies can be quite costly, and the schools often do not have the funds to provide what we as parents might want.

 

There are also ideological and pedagogic differences in opinion for what would be considered best practices for specific students with diagnoses. You might suggest something that an educator might never have encountered before, or have tried with a different student and found it to be unsuccessful. You might ask for a one-to-one aid for your child that the school does not deem necessary. Sometimes, special education parents would advocate to the level that their child receive a better education than their non-disabled peers. This law helps to ensure that does not happen.

 

Another obstacle that poses a threat to misunderstanding of the law is emotions. Parents can become emotional, especially when they feel their child is being treated unfairly or not receiving what s/he needs to succeed. Educators can become defensive and shut down communication as they feel they are being attacked and mistrusted.

 

Over the years, the courts have helped define what FAPE is and is not. In short, it is vital for parents to understand that IDEA is not an entitlement program that provides disabled children with a better education than is provided to non-disabled students. Use the chart below to help you learn what FAPE can mean to you and your child, and to dispel the many myths about FAPE. 

FAPE Myths

FAPE Facts

Children with disabilities cannot be charged for

  • Materials
  • Student fees
  • Any other costs that are requested of general education students.

Special education and related services are provided

  • At public expense
  • Under public supervision and direction.
  • Without charge to the parent or guardian.

Children with disabilities are not required to

  • Complete basic requirements for graduation.
  • Pass state-approved assessments that demonstrate State standards.

Children with disabilities are provided

(These allow them to have access to and benefit from instruction so they can meet the standards of the State Education Authority.)

The district must provide

  • A specific specialized program or school setting that is chosen by the parent;
  • A program that provides the child greater access to educational materials than their non-disabled peers.

*FAPE also does not require that a school provide educational services that are superior to those provided to non-disabled peers.

The district must provide a program that

  • Complies with the procedural requirements of IDEA;
  • Addresses the child’s unique needs as identified by evaluations, observation, and the child’s educational team and,
  • Is coordinated to ensure the child is able to make aCdequate progress in the educational setting.

*FAPE requires that the quality of educational services provided to students with disabilities be equal to those provided to non-disabled students.

The student with a disability

  • Must be provided preferential treatment or guaranteed placement in extracurricular activities;
  • Does not have to meet the basic requirements of participation that are required of non-disabled peers.

The student with a disability

  • Must have access to nonacademic and extra curricular equal to those provided to non-disabled peers.

 

The role of an Education Champion IEP consultant is to help mediate the process of getting parents, educators and administrators to come to agreement on what would be an appropriate and individualized public education and to troubleshoot those obstacles as they arise.

 

As Kim has sat on both sides of the table as a Special Educator and a Parent, she brings a comprehensive understanding of the viewpoints unique to many advocates. Call Education Champion today for a free consultation: 309.824.5738, or email kimhillard@educationchampion.com.

 

Chart credit: National Center for Learning Disabilities NCLD.org

Alphabet Soup Part 2: 504 Plan

In the first blog in this series, I explained what an IEP is. It would be a good idea to read that blog first as it is a good reference point in comparing the two plans.

A 504 Plan is short for an accommodation plan that is covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal law that requires any person or agency (school) receiving federal money to have policies in place that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. As this is an educational blog, I will focus on the school aspect even though the law is broad enough to include other agencies.

Here is a general overview of the differences in the two plans.

504 Plan

IEP

Legal document

Legally binding document with far more safe guards and legal repercussions

504 hearing not required to be made available by school district

Due process required to be made available to parents for disagreements

General description of supports the district will provide

Very detailed plan addressing goals, objectives and current levels of performance as related to the specific disability as defined by IDEA

Not specifically special education

Special Education

Made eligible under section 504

Made eligible under IDEA

Can be temporary

(ie student will be allowed use of the elevator while on crutches for 6 weeks)

At least 1 year

Fewer protections for the student

Far more protections for the student

Students with ADHD not required to be provided a 504 plan

Other Health Impaired diagnosis can help students with ADHD

Can cover conditions that IDEA also covers

Can cover conditions that section 504 also covers

All school personnel provide accommodations

Special Educator is the case manager and supports regular educators and others with whom the student comes in contact

 

In summary, a 504 plan is much more general, can be temporary, is a legal document, but not nearly as binding as an IEP and is not considered to cover special education services.

Here is a great example of a 504 plan for a student diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and Dyslexia. It defines how the disability is covered under Section 504, the disability itself, and the specific accommodations necessary for the student to have access to all programming and educational opportunities.

Education Champion can help you determine which path to take in order to help your student be successful in school. EC can also help you prepare for both the IEP or 504 process. Give Kim a call at 309.824.5738 or email her at kimhillard@educationchampion.com

Alphabet Soup

In the special education world, there are myriad acronyms. IEP, FAPE, BIS, IDEA, BP, LD, BD, SLD, ASD to name a few. Some call it Alphabet Soup. In this series of blogs, I will explain the most common of the acronyms.

 

IEP: Individualized Education Plan. The IEP is one of the most important documents in your child’s life.

 

This plan is for any student with a diagnosed learning, emotional, physical disability. It is a legally binding document that seeks to provide goals and benchmarks addressing all areas of disability.

 

The IEP is created by a team in an IEP meeting. The team includes but is not limited to school personnel: regular and special educators and paraprofessionals, principal, director of special education, social worker, counselor, nurse, and psychologist. It also includes specific lay people or professionals who may be invited by the parents like a psychiatrist, doctor, private counselor, behavioral specialist, advocate or educational specialist. The parents are invited and encouraged to attend. Side note: as educators, we would much prefer to be in disagreement and discord with parents than to have them so apathetic that they do not attend these very important annual meeting. When appropriate, the child is also invited to attend.

 

All members of the child’s team are invited, reminded and reminded again as the school is required by law to contact the parents three times before the meeting. It is that important that the parents attend. You are know your child best, and your input is invaluable!

 

Each member’s input is given and documented. The special educator often comes with goals in mind for the child to accomplish and the time frame in which those goals (more on goals in a separate blog) are expected to be met. The steps to reach each goal are called benchmarks.

 

All members of the team must approve the goals and sign the document. At the end of each IEP meeting, the parents are given copy for their records, another goes to the teacher and another in the child’s school file.

 

Parents will receive updates on those goals each academic quarter or trimester. They usually receive a printed piece of paper with an indicator of how the child is progressing toward each goal with the quarterly report card. If there are questions about the child’s progress, it is important that the parents express those as soon as they receive the progress report to ensure that everyone is in agreement. Getting to an IEP meeting and finding out your child will not meet the goals placed at the previous year’s meeting for the first time is unacceptable. Working together throughout the year and keeping lines of communication is imperative.

Choosing Books for your Children to Read

Li

For about 7 years, I have taken my preschool child(ren) to story time at the public library. As I do not do any formal pre-school for my kids, it has allowed them an opportunity to listen to another adult besides mom and dad. It helps them with attention span and sitting still-ish.

Today was no exception to this rule. I usually pick out books for all 4 of the big kids who are in school, then some for the pre-schooler and then we play. This is the first year that during the 30 minute story time, I am not responsible for another child! It is lovely to chat with friends, browse the adult section alone (!) or, like today, get in some sweet, tiny baby snuggles with a friend’s precious son.

As I was looking for books for the big kids, I ran into a friend. She had her recommended reading list in hand from her child’s teacher and was becoming frustrated with finding a book for her choosy fourth grade daughter. As my oldest daughter is in 5th grade, I showed my friend some of the books she enjoyed last year. I was browsing myself and showed her the publisher’s page in the front of some fiction books. She did not know about this page, so I thought I’d share it with you. This wonderful page has a very short summary and a list of themes. I use this, among other things, to determine which books I will and will not check out for my kids.

Here is an example from a book my daughter just got at the book store. I am using the picture and publisher’s page as an example, I am not necessarily recommending the book because I have not personally read it. I believe she is enjoying it though.

When you open the book, you find the front matter (the parts before the story actually begins). The copyright page, title page, dedication page, preface, etc. If a book has the summary and list of themes/literary elements, it is usually found on the page with the publisher and copyright information. In this book, it is opposite the dedication page.

 

What we are looking for is just below half way down the page:

 

Here we find the summary: “Several students…” and the list of themes: “1. Classrooms—Juvenile fiction. 2. Moving, Household…” Nothing too alarming here. Often you will find themes like: orphans, single-parent home, death, funeral, stealing, mystery and detective stories, the age of the main character and more. After each, it says “Fiction” so you know there aren’t any elements of non-fiction in the book.

When choosing books, I start with the title and go from there. Using the inside cover, the back cover and this copyright page helps me determine if it is something I will check out/buy for my child. Many, many times, I have put a book back on the shelf without even reading a page, both for reasons of interests and questionable content.

I would encourage you to discuss and develop your family’s standards for reading with your kids. My kids know that if they run across an element or theme that we have determined questionable, they are to talk through it with my husband or myself and determine whether or not they will finish the book. It has gone both ways, but I have to trust them to come to us.

I used to try to read everything they were reading, but I can not keep up with my voracious readers. Often, when a class assignment is to read a book, I try to read it also. In fact, I just bought a book on amazon that my son needed a signed permission slip in order to read it and do a related research project. It is a nonfiction book about the Holocaust. I also bought the first novel read as a class during fifth grade and read it before they finished in order to be able to discuss it with my son (and daughter this year), help guide the research project, and, frankly, to help determine if I trust the teacher(s) in the book selection. So far, I have not had much of a problem with what is being read or recommended in class.

Did you know about this information?

Parent-Teacher Conference Worksheet

As promised on Facebook, here is a worksheet you can download, print out and take with you to your parent-teacher conference.

Remember to think through the following questions beforehand. Jot any down that you know you want to ask specifically in the “Questions to ask teacher” section. These are the same ones from the previous post, Parent-Teacher Conferences.

Ask questions. I like to know how my child is doing in 4 different areas: academics, social, emotional and behavior. Here are some questions to ask about each one:
Academics:

  • Often, the teacher will have standardized test scores to share with you. Be sure to ask for clarification for what they mean. You should also be sure to understand what the teacher uses this data for. Does he use it to determine academic placement or intervention strategies? Is it only for the district and has no bearing on the classroom?
  • What is my child’s reading level? How can I find books within that level online, at the bookstore, at the library? How do you give credit/grade their outside reading?
  • How do you assess reading levels? Where can I find an explanation of those tests?
  • Do you find that the test results reflect what my child is displaying in class? Why or why not?
  • My child is particularly challenged by __________ class. Do you know of any online resources or tutoring tips that can help us help him?

Social:

  • Who does my child choose to spend her time with?
  • Do his social interactions line up with maturity and expectations for his grade/age?
  • Is there anything you have noticed that we should be talking to her about at home?
  • My child seems to be struggling to get along well with __________. Have you noticed anything between them? I realize it is usually both kids involved, so are there any suggestions you have for us as parents so that we can come up with reasonable solutions to the problem? (realize that the teacher cannot give much information about the other child and can only speak to you about your child.)

Emotional:

  • What kinds of emotions do you notice my child experiencing during school?
  • Does he deal with them in an age appropriate manner?
  • At home, my child struggles with expressing _____________ appropriately. Have you noticed this? We deal with it by ______ and it really seems to help.

Behavioral:

  • How often does my child show frustration? How can you tell when he is frustrated?
  • Are the behaviors he exhibits during these moments acceptable? If not, what can we do to help him express frustration in an appropriate manner?

What kinds of strategies have you tried to help him overcome these behaviors? Have you tried _____? It worked well last year or at home.

Let me know how your conferences go!!

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Squawk box in the corner of the classroom: “Mrs. Teacher, please send Kim to the principal’s office.” “Oooooh…you’re in trou-ble!” “What did you do?!”

Each step toward the office feels like my feet are gaining mass and it is harder and harder to work against gravity to lift up my legs and walk forward. My stomach feels like I’ve swallowed a butterfly garden and my mind is racing to every wrong thing I’ve done in my life to figure out why I would have to go see Mr. Principal. It takes about three years to walk from my classroom to the office. I am nearly in tears and am a mess of anxiety and fear.

This may have been when I was nine, but I can still remember the feelings and emotions like they were yesterday. Not. So. Fun.

Have you ever had those same feelings when waiting outside the door of a teacher’s classroom while waiting for the conference to begin? All sorts of thoughts can run through your mind…
What if my kid isn’t doing as well as I thought in class?
What if my kid is the smelly one?
What if I don’t like her?
What if she doesn’t like me, or worse, my kid?
What if she is Mrs. Viola Swamp? (remember this book?)

 

Or, perhaps you find yourself in the opposite situation. You have found a trusted ally in your child’s teacher and cannot wait to spend more time with him. You may have worked with her with the PTO or perhaps had her for a previous child. I have had it both ways. I cannot say enough about my kids’ kindergarten teacher! I mean, look at these sweet notes she sent in the mail last year:

If you are “waiting for the principal”, I find going in with plan can help calm your nerves and lessen some of the sense of helplessness. If you are meeting with a dear friend, a plan can help you stay focused on the task at hand during those few precious moments you have to spend together. Here are my tips on planning ahead:

Ask questions. I like to know how my child is doing in 4 different areas: academics, social, emotional and behavior. Here are some questions to ask about each one:
Academics:

  • Often, the teacher will have standardized test scores to share with you. Be sure to ask for clarification for what they mean. You should also be sure to understand what the teacher uses this data for. Does he use it to determine academic placement or intervention strategies? Is it only for the district and has no bearing on the classroom?
  • What is my child’s reading level? How can I find books within that level online, at the bookstore, at the library? How do you give credit/grade their outside reading?
  • How do you assess reading levels? Where can I find an explanation of those tests?
  • Do you find that the test results reflect what my child is displaying in class? Why or why not?
  • My child is particularly challenged by __________ class. Do you know of any online resources or tutoring tips that can help us help him?

Social:

  • Who does my child choose to spend her time with?
  • Do his social interactions line up with maturity and expectations for his grade/age?
  • Is there anything you have noticed that we should be talking to her about at home?
  • My child seems to be struggling to get along well with __________. Have you noticed anything between them? I realize it is usually both kids involved, so are there any suggestions you have for us as parents so that we can come up with reasonable solutions to the problem? (realize that the teacher cannot give much information about the other child and can only speak to you about your child.)

Emotional:

  • What kinds of emotions do you notice my child experiencing during school?
  • Does he deal with them in an age appropriate manner?
  • At home, my child struggles with expressing _____________ appropriately. Have you noticed this? We deal with it by ______ and it really seems to help.

Behavioral:

  • How often does my child show frustration? How can you tell when he is frustrated?
  • Are the behaviors he exhibits during these moments acceptable? If not, what can we do to help him express frustration in an appropriate manner?
  • What kinds of strategies have you tried to help him overcome these behaviors? Have you tried _____? It worked well last year or at home.

A few other things to keep in mind:

  • Teachers, barring the rare exception, want to see each and every child be successful. She has your child’s best interests at heart and in mind when she is planning lessons and troubleshooting how to teach the class. Think the best of her and her intentions. He will usually be on your side if you are kind and seek to work together.
  • Start off positive. Find something you like about this school year and compliment the teacher on what he is doing.
  • The class size is likely too large. Budget cuts and like nonsense are filling teacher’s classrooms with more students every year. 28-32 elementary students in one class is taxing. She is working her hardest and giving her best to the kids. One-on-one interactions are few and far between. Give grace for that fact.
  • If the teacher doesn’t like you, it will be hard for her to like your student. So, don’t go in with guns ablazin’ accusing and indicting straight away. If you disagree, be sure to ask for clarification and explanation of why he chooses to do certain things. Honest, yet gentle communication will go a long way to make this school year one of the best.

P.S. When I was 9, I was called to the office because I had a phone call. My mom was on the other end to tell me that I had become an aunt again. Although I wasn’t in trouble, it sure felt bad. Now, in HS, when I was called in…well, that’s a different story all together.