Friday, September 10, 2010

Special Education Issues at MVRCS


One of our biggest concerns with our school is the Special Education Department. For those who do not have a child receiving services, you may not have any idea as to what parents of children with IEP’s and/or 504’s must incur in an attempt to ensure their child receives the education they are entitled to. We must stress that few parents every truly enjoy their experiences with ANY Special Education department as it is a stressful situation for most parents. Also, for parents who are concerned about their child’s progress and/or the schools ability to meet their educational needs, the task becomes even more daunting. Public schools must not only manage meeting the educational needs of each child, they must simultaneously stay within their financial constraints. To clarify, if a public school makes the determination to send a child to a school outside of the district (i.e. outplace them), is incredibly expensive and comes out of their already tight budget. That being said, I believe that the law governing charter schools is different in that they would refer the child (and cost) back to the sending district, who would then be responsible for outplacing the child. Amazingly enough, many of the sending districts of MVRCS are doing incredible things within Special Education.
For parents with children receiving services at MVRCS we have compiled some suggestions and concerns that you should be aware of.  
  • First and foremost, if possible hire an Attorney or Advocate who specializes in Special Education (check out http://wrightslaw.com/ for assistance or guidance regarding most issues related to Special Education Laws and best practices). We have heard (but not confirmed) that the DESE is able to provide parents with an advocate. As a last resort we highly recommend you tape record the meeting and discussion. We believe this is allowable by law if you have the permission of all those in attendance and would question the motives of those unwilling to do so. At the very least by recording the meeting, you avoid any misunderstandings or denials of statements. 
  • We have heard of parents being told things such as ‘this is how we do things here’, ‘you knew that when you signed up with us’, ‘you  are free to leave’,  and (our favorite) ‘we don’t identify specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia within IEP’s but use the term learning disability…’. These statements are at he very least questionable but most likely, illegal under ‘No Child Left Behind’ and Special Education laws. A childs IEP should contain as much specific information as possible in order to allow all teaching staff to meet the childs needs. It is also required by law that ALL teaching staff (and assistants, specialists, etc.) be given a copy of your childs IEP. We have heard of instances of parents meeting with specialists who were unaware that their child had an IEP or if aware, had not received a copy of it.
  • IEP’s should contain information that is very specific as to the learning needs of the student, where the student is (specific levels and abilities), where they student should be at the next review, and how they will get there. Simply stating that a child will ‘read a passage’, or ‘with the assistance of staff’ is not sufficient as it is not explicit nor measurable.  We have heard of students with IEP’s leaving MVRCS and being considerably behind their peers (one child was 3-4 school years behind). While occassionally this is unavoidable, it is concerning that considering the very low number of Special Education students MVRCS is responsible for accomodating (as compared to sending districts), very few of these students perform to satisfaction on MCAS tests. Because a child has an IEP does not make it possible for them to succeed within the classroom if given the right tools, instruction, and methodology.
  • Be sure all accomodations are being implemented, ESPECIALLY during testing (specifically MCAS and IOWA’s). We have heard of students requiring additional time for tests remaining in the classroom after the other students have finished. It is difficult for any child to remain focused and do their best with distractions, never mind a child who is struggling, may be fatiqued, or has difficutly remaining focused.
  • We question the training, guidance, and collaboration between the Special Education department staff and the classroom teachers and specialists. We have heard of Professional Development training where the staff is given a stack of all past training materials on a given subject and they read it aloud. It has also been suggested that although the school provided training on issues related to child abuse, neglect,  and threats of danger, the school is rarely willing to follow the state mandates that govern their actions. This is concerning to us as we have heard of children threatening to bring guns into school, harm themselves or others, and issues relating to sexual abuse. Laws govern how each of these issues are to be handled to ensure the safety of all students. Our concern is that while we question the credentials and experiences of the Administration of MVRCS (with the exception of Dr. McCleary who is both highly qualified and educated yet given little to no say in the handling of these situations), we must ask is their failure as a result of their ignorance of the law or for other, more self-serving motives? As a number of staff members spoke power point presentations of the laws, it does not seem as though the school permits their staff to follow the laws.

The Special Education department at MVRCS is headed by Kathy Kinnon (who is related to Neil Kinnon the current Chairman of the Board of Trustees which is an issue within itself) and as a result of parents experiences, we find ourselves questioning her credentials, experience, dedication, and motives . Further, the other concern that we have is that should a parent have an issue with the services (or lack of services) being offered, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires the parent to first bring the issue to the Board of Trustees. The objectivity and willingness of the Board to address parent’s issues is a major concern. Further, we question the credentials and experience of not only Kathy Kinnon (who, to the best of our knowledge, has not been employed in a public school or under the leadership of highly qualified and experienced leaders), but also of the Board in determining the educational needs of children of diverse learning needs. We must also mention the numerous comments we have received from parents regarding their unwillingness, uneasiness, and fear of challenging the Board. We’ve heard stories of parents being berated, dismissed, and ridiculed by various Board members. For these parents the next step in the process involves filing a complaint with the DESE to which they must sign their name to. The process continues, going from the DESE to the school and back to the DESE with the final step being to request a hearing with the DESE. As if dealing with MVRCS wasn’t challenging enough, per Boston Globe Correspondent Sarah Thomas reported (see Boston Globe Article Focusing on Special Education - provides insight into Special Education laws and process):
“According to the Bureau of Special Education Appeals, there were 609 hearing requests from parents who disputed the programs developed for their children in 2009.
Forty-eight of those requests led to completed hearings, and the parents prevailed in six cases.
This ultimately results in all parents having very few choices or avenues of recourse but for the parents of MVRCS, this is further exasperated by MVRCS choosing to ignore the Conflict of Issues Laws. MVRCS must be required to employ highly qualified and experienced individuals who know Special Education and the laws.

5 comments:

  1. I found this at http://pub23.bravenet.com/forum/static/show.php?usernum=1936482200&frmid=16&msgid=820037&cmd=show and thought it was interesting...Look at the attrition rate -- WOW!!

    I just looked at the DOE website. The earlier stats were not correct, but not far off. The class that just graduated from the MVRCS in 2009 had 33 students. When they were in 4th grade in 2000 that same class had 101 students take the MCAS test. Similarly, the current senior class has 46 students and when they were in the 4th grade (2001) they had 100 students take the test.(54%attrition). These attrition rates are much higher than any of the sending districts. By comparison, the current MHS class has 229 students and in 2001 they had 279 students take the test. (18% attrition) The data is all out there, none of this is made up.
    Where are all of these students going? We know for certain that the Harvard bound student stayed. Thanks to their PR department we are also well aware that none of their high school students failed the MCAS test.
    As the self-proclaimed statman I don't like making assumptions, nevertheless, can we draw any conclusions from the fact that the school has one of the highest attrition rates in the state and also has all of their high school students pass the MCAS test. Further, they do not fare nearly as well on the MCAS as the lower grades. Can't we safely assume that the poorer students (including those that need special ed services that the charter school refuses to give) are leaving and going back to the districts?
    Again, an earlier post said it right; this isn't about grades rather it is about a public school using public funds that is running itself as a private school without accountability. This school gives kids cash for tutoring and builds $4.4m ball fields using taxpayer money without accountability.

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  2. From a similar site and interesting that the Parents prevailed against MVRCS in a hearing at the DSES. According to the statistics Sarah Thomas quoted in her article, must have been truly lacking. (found at http://pub23.bravenet.com/forum/static/show.php?usernum=1936482200&frmid=16&msgid=825895&cmd=show).

    Mass. Bureau of Special Education Appeals Board rules against Mystic Valley

    The Mass. Bureau of Special Education Appeals Board recently ruled against the Mystic Valley Charter school for their failure to accommodate a child with a disability. While some may try to trivialize this; it is simply a microcosim of how they treat kids with special education needs. They do what they can to drive them out of the system. Kudos to the parents of this family for standing up against them and force them to comply with the child's needs

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  3. My child is in the IEP program. I was told that going forward the teachers need to have patience and be on board with helping my child succeed. Therefore, if I don't see that happening I will speak up and no one will drive my child out of the system. I also want to thank the people that but this blog together I think it's great. It gives the parents a chance to voice our opinion on alot of issues for me expecially special ED. Because we all know what ever they save (MVRCS) goes and if we don't like we can leave and it shouldn't be like that we should be able to express ourselves.Our opinion should matter too. We all want our child to have a great education. Lastly, I would like to say finally people are starting to speak up.

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  4. I am learning about blogs and like what you did in yours blog. Special Education

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  5. I have a son with ADHD at MVRCS. In my opinion they are trying to railroad him out of the school. They do absolutely nothing to help him. They take pride in giving him detention after detention, never trying anything new to help him avoid detentions. It appears they take greet pride in punishing students.

    What is it that MMVRCS actually does to help students ? Not much. They can take a B student and give him/her twenty extra days of school a year and maybe they become a B+ student. Is that such a great accomplishment ? Not in my eyes. The true test is what they do, or don't do with kids like my son with ADHD. The answer is that they do nothing, and they are prod of it.

    We don't need these statements to be anonymous. We should stand together and have our voice heard. HHope to here from others iin the same position.

    Paul

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