TAESE organizes popular Tri-State Law Conference

October 22, 2012 by Sue Reeves

Two days filled with discussions of case law may seem dull to some people, but the participants of the Tri-State Regional Special Education Law Conference are eager to soak up every word. The conference is organized by the CPD’s Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education (TAESE).

“The stakes are high,” said Martin E. Blair, TAESE associate director. “If legal information is wrong, lawsuits can result, but more importantly, it affects services that children receive. If (administrators) get it wrong, kids may not get what they’re entitled to get to be successful in school. We want to address that.”

The conference is designed for general and special education administrators and teachers, service providers, parents, advocates, lawyers and others involved in developing and supporting special education services for children with disabilities and their families.

“One of the things we do is organize professional development conferences and events,” Blair said. “We work with the state office of education or any other group to put together their conferences, get the speakers, advertise the event, and do on-site management.”

TAESE has been organizing law institutes for more than a dozen years in Utah and other states, Blair said. Nebraska was doing its own conference, but organizers decided about eight years ago they wanted to attract national-level speakers. Soon Iowa and Kansas expressed interest, and the Tri-State Law Conference was begun.

Blair said the law conferences continue to grow, even though the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has not been reauthorized by Congress since 2004.

“The law hasn’t changed, but interpretations by school districts and the courts continue to change the way we interpret special education,” he said. “Special educators and administrators are hungry for the newest information. They want to provide the best and most legally appropriate services to children and their families.”

This year, participation in the conference was capped at 600 and registration closed a month early. There are dozens of names on the waiting list. About a third of the participants are from Nebraska, about a third from Kansas and the rest from other states.

“People love it,” Blair said. “There are national level speakers. Attorneys come back year after year to present on case law, mediation and special education legal issues.”

For more than 30 years, TAESE has been the technical assistance division of the CPD at Utah State University. TAESE provides technical assistance in special education and to build the capacity of State Departments of Education, school districts, and charter schools to better serve infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.

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Special education in the vitual world: New possibilities, new challenges

September 7, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

photo of a teacher listening to a student

Much of what happens in the classroom can't be measured in academic terms.

Over the summer, the CPD’s Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education organized training events for more than 2,300 special educators and administrators in Utah and Kansas.

A growing concern being discussed around the water coolers: Virtual Education.

“There are many legal questions related to virtual education,” wrote TAESE director John Copenhaver, “including how the least restrictive environment, the Individualized Education Program team and progress of the plan’s goals operate in a virtual setting.”

“For the past three years in my last district this was an area of great angst,” wrote Norm Ames, who was a school psychologist and special education administrator before coming to TAESE as the Associate Director of the Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center, which is part of TAESE.

“Parents and adult eligible students would call, wanting to withdraw from their current campus-based program and enroll in the virtual academy newly offered by the district. There are also other ‘public’ programs offered by the state and other districts competing for the full time equivalent funds.  We struggled trying to figure out how to treat the situation just from a logistical issue (district transfer?), let alone a free appropriate public education issue. How does a virtual or online program that accepts federal IDEA money provide interventions that lead to growth on an IEP goal, when there is no physical or logistical means to do so?”

To Marty Blair, TAESE’s associate director, the issue is about more than academic goals. “Some argue that on-line programs have built in monitoring systems that track student progress,” he wrote. “But IEP goals are not just academic. They may include behavioral, communication, social and community integration activities. What about the positive aspects of traditional education where students learn appropriate behavior and skills by observing each other? This “social or observational learning” is not available for students who are physically isolated from other students. Court cases to define the rights, responsibilities and roles of educators in this evolving education setting are few and far between.”

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Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

August 30, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

Dr. John Copenhaver

Dr. John Copenhaver

In the next month, the CPD will wrap up its 40th Anniversary events. In the spirit of the celebration, we invited John Copenhaver, Director of the CPD’s Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education, to reflect on his career in the field.

Here’s his retrospective:

I was seventeen years old when my high school psychology class took a trip to what was then the state training school in American Fork, Utah.  It was 1964 and “special” education was not very special.  Parents of children with severe disabilities were counseled by doctors and clergy to take their child to the state hospital saying, “it will be better for them and your family.” Individuals with disabilities did not have the same civil rights as others.

I did volunteer work at the state hospital for the next three years and met a wonderful little girl by the name of Gail. She was five years old at the time.  Gail had severe physical and cognitive disabilities and she was placed at the hospital by her parents when she was just a baby.

I know it might sound funny, but even though Gail never uttered a word, we seemed to communicate on a different level. She smiled when I came to feed her. It was quite simple with Gail, it was a communication through heart and spirit.

I was able to get to know her mother and father. They encouraged me. She passed away at ten years and I was able to be part of the service. We visit her gravesite whenever we are in the area.

In those days, the state hospitals were overcrowded, lacking educational programs. They followed a medical model of treatment. The facilities were outdated and depressing. Residents lined the perimeter of the buildings in diapers, rocking back and forth with very little stimulation.

Because of Gail and others like her, I went on to the University to pursue a career in special education. No one in my family had ever attended or graduated from higher education.  I worked full time and went to school full time.  I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife, Kathy, who went on to become a wonderful second grade teacher. I was determined to make a difference in the lives of children with disabilities.

The same year I began my special education journey, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed and outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and women. About the time I graduated from college, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Education of All Handicapped Act (EHA) passed and opened public school buildings to all children with disabilities.

My first job in special education was in Elmo, Montana on the shores of Flathead Lake.  Elmo was on the Flathead and Salish Indian Reservation. Special education teachers in the state and throughout the country were provided training on the “Individualized Education Program” (IEP). We invented how the IEP should work. I taught in special education classrooms for the next eighteen years in various school districts in Montana and helped develop over one thousand IEPs.  It was very gratifying to work with parents and children with disabilities. Each child was unique and valued. Between 1975-1990, it was all about physical access, procedural safeguards, and developing appropriate IEPs. During that time, I was blessed to serve as a special education teacher, school psychologist, and special education director.

In 1990, I took a leave of absence from my job in Montana for a position with Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center at Utah State University.  Dr. Glenn Latham was the director when I arrived. Since that time, I have experienced the great fortune of working with and providing technical assistance–or advice on how to enhance special education and meet its legal requirements–to numerous state special education directors across the country, including the BIE.  I have been at all 183 BIE schools in eighteen states.

From 1990-2012, special education started to change.  State complaint investigations and due process hearings increased, and attorneys became part of the educational landscape.  Accountability became a buzzword after the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004.  Every State in the country was required to submit a State Performance Plan (SPP) focused on 20 performance and compliance indicators.  Part C has 14 indicators.  Every February, the State is required to submit an annual performance report (APR) that reports the progress of each indicator. IDEA has created an accountability system that involves the IEP for the student, the SPP for the State, and the APR for the school district.  Data, accountability, disputes, and fiscal issues begin to overshadow the focus on the child and their IEP.

In the 1990s and before, the barriers were attitudes and discrimination. Today the barriers for special education are excessive regulations and bureaucracy. Data and accountability are important, but it has been carried to an extreme, at the expense of serving children.

Despite the challenges we currently face, there have been numerous accomplishments over the past thirty years in special education.

  • We now have a zero reject policy for children with disabilities in public schools;
  • Parents take an active role in their child’s special education program;
  • Children with disabilities are viewed as general education first;
  • The “inclusion” movement has provided increased involvement in general education for children with disabilities;
  • We are using “people first” language out of respect;
  • We have eliminated inappropriate language such as “retardation”;
  • Infants and toddlers with disabilities now are entitled to services;
  • There is more accountability at the State and school district levels;
  • Response to Intervention (RtI) systems are getting to at-risk children earlier, before they are placed in special education.

I could go on with more accomplishments we should all be proud of, and continue our efforts to improve programs and services for children with disabilities. This effort should always include families and community.

As I move toward the end of my career, I hope the pendulum starts to swing back to a focus on each child and their IEP team, making sure to always keep the main thing the main thing – children with disabilities and their unique needs.

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2012 Utah Institute on Special Education Law conference

July 9, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

Julie Weatherly

Julie Weatherly, Esq.

There is still space available at this year’s special education law conference, held in Ogden’s Eccles Conference Center on August 6-8. It will be open to special education and 504 administrators, Utah State Office of Education facilitators and contract dispute resolution personnel. Participants who register before July 27 will receive a binder of conference materials.

Joanne Cashman

Joanne Cashman, Ed.D

Keynote speakers include Julie Weatherly, owner of Resolutions in Special Education, Inc., who will speak on developments in special education law during the past year. Her discussion will include court decisions and agency interpretations. She speaks on August 6.

On August 7, Joanne Cashman presents on putting the common core state standards into practice. As director of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Partnership, she works with more than 50 national organizations and family groups, many of whom are concerned with implementing the common core. Together they have created ready to use materials that respond to the needs in the field.

More information is available on the TAESE (Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education) website. Available space is filling fast, so register soon!

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Mediation: an unsung success story in special education conflicts

February 21, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

logo for the Dispute Resolution in Special Education ConsortiumThe law guarantees that all eligible children and youth with disabilities receive a free and appropriate education. But what happens when a parent disagrees with the school district in how their child’s special education is provided?

Mediation is an unsung success story in special education conflict resolution. In the majority of the cases, mediation is a successful way to solve a disagreement between parents and school districts, said John Copenhaver, Director of the Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education. TAESE is the Center for Persons with Disabilities’ technical assistance division at Utah State University.

Mediation should be the first recourse when parents and school districts disagree about a child’s special education. Either the parent or school can request it. From there, a neutral mediator provided by the State Department of Education can work to find a solution that is acceptable to both the school and the family.

State Education Agencies are required to have a list of qualified special education mediators that are available to school districts if they are requested. This is a free service to the parent and school district.

Mediation is a tool that often resolves problems that might otherwise take years to work its way through the court system in a civil suit or formal due process hearing.  It is also the least expensive way to address an issue by far.

But if the mediation is unsuccessful, a parent who is still unsatisfied can file a State complaint or file for a due process hearing. The State has 60 days to investigate a complaint and submit findings and recommendations.

If parents file for a due process hearing, they can ask the school district for a filing form or get one from the State Department of Education. The State has 45 days to conduct a hearing and hand down findings and recommendations. The findings can be appealed and go to a higher court, which is by far the slowest-moving and most expensive place to solve a problem.

TAESE administers the Dispute Resolution in Special Education Consortium, which provides ongoing training and professional development for mediators, complaint investigators, due process hearing officers, State Education Agency staff and Lead Agency staff. Twelve states, including the Utah Department of Education, belong to the Consortium. For more information, visit the TAESE website.

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