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 The facilities were outdated and depressing.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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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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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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Utah Special Education Law Institute

July 20, 2011 by cpehrson

It”s not too late to register for the Utah Institute Special Education Law annual conference to be held August 8-9, 2011 in Ogden, Utah.

Participants who  register by July 28th will receive a binder containing all of the conference materials.  Online registration closes July 28.

This annual conference is designed for administrators, educators, service providers, parents, families, and others responsible for the implementation of IDEA 2004 and the accompanying regulations.

This conference is provided by the Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education (TAESE), a division of the CPD.

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