Utah disability history on display in education building

February 6, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

An excerpt from the posters shows a protester in a wheelchair, in front of a bus

Catch the display in the Education Building Atrium through Friday, February 10.

It’s Education and Human Services Week. And while you’re enjoying the ice cream festivities over in the Education Building atrium, you can also learn more about disability history in Utah. (A complete schedule of events is listed on the college website.)

A series of posters on either end of the Atrium takes a Utah-specific view of significant events in disability history.

A look at Utah’s health history highlights includes pioneering female doctors and a Nobel prize laureate. Institutionalization of people with disabilities is examined. Parents reflect on their fight to have their children with disabilities attend public schools. One parent tells of her journey to participate in her son’s early education.  A veteran recalls a project to help the children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange. An advocate remembers the struggle for equal access to public transportation. People with disabilities reflect on the significance of being included in their communities.

So wander over between February 6 and February 10. It’s a great way to celebrate education, human services and making a difference.

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50 years of disability as a national priority

October 19, 2011 by JoLynne Lyon

Photo of JFK

This photo of John F. Kennedy is courtesy of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum

Developmental disabilities were on John F. Kennedy’s mind long before he became President of the United States. The president’s sister, Rosemary, was born with intellectual disabilities.

In 1947 his parents started the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, in memory of their oldest son. Its purpose was to seek the prevention of intellectual disabilities and improve the way society deals with them. Another of the president’s sisters, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, became a high-profile advocate. President Kennedy took all that family history with him into the White House, and in October 1961 he convened the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation.

The panel’s name is archaic now, but its historical significance is huge. It brought together scientists and doctors, and by the end of 1962 it had come up with a set of specific recommendations. With those in hand, President Kennedy called for a dramatic reduction in the number of people institutionalized because of disability. The idea of keeping people with disabilities within their communities was revolutionary at the time–they were often life-long residents at institutions.
Another recommendation–the forming of university-based centers for people with disabilities–was signed into law less than a month before the president was assassinated. The CPD (or the Exceptional Child Center, as it was known at the time) was established because of that legislation.While the earliest university-affiliated  centers were associated with medical schools, the CPD was connected to a college of education. People who worked to make it happen remember it as a tricky approval process, selling the Federal Government on the idea that education could be as central as medicine in a university center for children with disabilities. In the end, the Exceptional Child Center had its own medical component, but it was established within Utah State University’s college of education. It was the first to operate outside of a medical school, and its mission was to serve people with disabilities in rural areas.

The CPD’s very existence reflected changes in the philosophy that drove disability studies. The focus continues to broaden. People with disabilities are now stakeholders who help set the agenda.

The CPD played its own part in that history. In its earliest years it provided opportunities for children and adults who could not have received an education without moving away from home.
But it all grew out of events that happened ten years before the building was completed, when a President of the United States made disability a national priority.

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Is there enough money for special education?

September 28, 2011 by JoLynne Lyon

Martin Blair, left, at the Utah Utah Special Education Law Institute

By Dr. Martin Blair, associate director at Technical Assistiance for Excellence in Special Education.

The Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education (TAESE) at the CPD organizes a variety of special education conferences and meetings around the country. We talk about  discipline, family involvement, compliance with federal regulations, etc.

But the “hallway chatter” these days usually ends up on the same topic: “How are we going to provide increasingly expensive special education with current or decreasing funding levels?”

States have a federal requirement to budget at least the same or more funds for special education from year to year.  This can be nearly impossible for those states who see their annual income decrease from year to year. Some states have asked that this “Maintenance of State Fiscal Support” or MFS requirement be waived. Special education advocates see this as a reduction in services to children with disabilities.

Local school districts, including Charter schools, are required to spend the same amount from year to year. This is referred to as the local “Maintenance of Effort–MOE” requirement. The exceptions to this rule are few and very specific. (See OSEP Memo 10-5.)

State and local special education administrators ask, “Should states and districts be held to these MFS or MOE requirements even when funds for other critical social services are reduced or cut completely?” “Should the federal government grant MFS waivers to States?” “If States provide less funding to local districts, how will special education services be prioritized, especially if the federal law requires that each eligible student receive a free appropriate public education?”

Advocates, families, students and school administrators answer these questions in a variety of ways. The bottom line: there may not be a right or best answer, only a better answer. However, what is “better” depends on which policies and programs we each find most important and most closely aligned with our personal values.

Note: This issue is discussed in detail in an Education Week article by Nirvi Shah, the website’s special education blogger.

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Changing the stigma of special education

August 22, 2011 by cpehrson

Getting the help a child needs in the school system can become a double-edged sword once the label of “special education” is attached to him or her.

Parents have a hard time admitting that their child needs special education services. Other parents may refuse to put their child in special education, even when they know their child would benefit from the services. Many parents hide the fact that their child is in special education because they know that  once a child is labeled, that label will stay with them throughout their school years.

As a former special education teacher said, “There is still a stigma for our special education students…Sadly, when some students are labeled, they are ripped out of a general education classroom and put into a special education classroom that is sometimes segregated away from the rest of the school.”

Any student placed in a separate special education class may be at risk of being made fun of by their peers, because they are seen as “different.”

“The stigma is not just coming from other students,” one local special education resource teacher observed. Her greatest concern as she starts a new school year is getting the general education teachers to accept and welcome the students with special needs into their classrooms.

Teachers are working so hard to help their regular students meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind,  that sometimes making the necessary accommodations or adaptations for students in special education may become overwhelming.

But, it is the student with special needs who suffers the most.  Low self-esteem is the result of being seen as different or needing specialized help with school subjects. Low self-esteem hinders, if not stops altogether, the motivation needed to face and overcome the challenges of having a learning or developmental disability.

Changing the stigma attached to special education is the key to success for these students.  Once society accepts the importance of special education services and learns to value differences, not scorn them, these students will move forward at a quicker pace.

“The fact is that special education is a blessing for students who are struggling due to their need for a smaller classroom environment, more support from an additional teacher or paraprofessional, or help outside of the classroom in a specific area,” says Tiffany Rubin, a special education teacher in New York City.

Changing the stigma will require change from the top down.

Administrators must make sure that their schools have zero tolerance for teasing and discrimination based on ability and differences.

Teachers must have the skills to address the academic needs of students mainstreamed into their classes, and model treating all students with respect.

Student must understand that being different is okay, and that their peers are more like them than they are different from them.

Rubin summarizes her thoughts about special education: “Special education is a necessary part of the educational system. When it is done properly, with good educators, and active parents, it can have a positive effect on the families and students. It can serve as a life preserver in a sea of confusion, despair and the unknown.”

Changing the stigma can start today with each of us doing our part.

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The legal transition to adulthood: information from the Utah Institute on Special Education Law

August 10, 2011 by JoLynne Lyon

photo of a teen with her parents

Parents and special educators need to understand the legal changes that come with adulthood.

Taken from a presentation by Lenore Knudtson of Knudtson Law LLC, at the Utah Institute on Special Education Law earlier this week in Ogden.

Growing up is hard enough. It’s even more complicated for young adults with disabilities. When they leave the public schools, they also leave the services associated with a free public education and enter a whole new set of rules, services and challenges.

Legal considerations will kick in, too. Both parents and special educators need to understand the legal changes that come with adulthood.

Special education students have the chance to stay in the public schools until they turn 22—provided that they don’t graduate with a regular diploma before then.  But at age 18, they are adults in the eyes of the law, unless some legal mechanism stops the transfer of rights. This means that after a student’s eighteenth birthday, he becomes the person who can give or revoke consent—essentially replacing the parent as his own responsible party.

Parents will continue to receive notices from the school, but all rights transfer to the student. The school is required by law to provide a notice to the parents of the coming transfer of rights.

When rights transfer to the student at age 18, she becomes the responsible party. She can decide whether to terminate special education services before her twenty-second birthday, whether to start a due process hearing or resolve a dispute through a legal settlement. She can approve her own IEP. If the student does not want her mother or father in the room when these decisions are made, she can exclude them.

So what happens if the student is not able to understand the decisions he will be asked to make? There are other options—guardianship, for example—but they need to be explored well before the child’s eighteenth birthday. Put it off too long, and the child’s IEP team may struggle with how to receive informed consent from a severely disabled 18-year-old student.

The IEP team needs to discuss these issues when the child is sixteen, or even earlier. Better planning can ease a special education student’s transition into the adult world.

This is one of many topics outlined at the 2011 Utah Institute on Special Education Law. The presenter offered some points for thought, but did not offer specific legal advice.

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