Parents and families of children receiving special education services are elated that Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) officials have shelved their plans to change the way due process complaints are filed.
While special education attorneys were first to raise the alarm, when parents and special education advocates heard the ALSDE was considering changing the process, they let the ALSDE know they weren’t happy with the changes and not being asked for their input.
Many were looking forward to the opportunity to speak directly with ALSDE officials at the June 11 Special Education Advisory Panel (SEAP) meeting.
Ben Crim, a parent in Huntsville, engaged state officials in an e-mail exchange, asking for an on-the-record statement as to whether the proposed changes to the process would be discussed at the upcoming SEAP meeting.
As a result of that exchange, last Wednesday, the Alabama State Department of Education released this statement:
There has been some discussion about the SEAP agenda including a discussion on “proposed changes” to the AAC.
At the time we responded to your four questions on April 9, 2015, that was our plan. However, since that time we have put all work towards revising the AAC on hold. Therefore, the ALSDE will not be discussing AAC changes because there are no changes being proposed at this time.
We do welcome public comment on any special education issue from 11:45 to 12:45.
In addition to the statement, an agenda for the SEAP meeting was provided.
Crim said he pushed for a firm response because he, like many other parents of children with special needs, couldn’t just hop in the car and drive to Montgomery “with no idea what to expect”.
In updating the online petition begun to combat the proposed changes, Mike Tumlin, founder of the Alabama Autism and Asperger Info and Support Network, directed supporters to “be more attentive, watch the watchers and reinvent how our support groups, non-profits and organizations operate to ensure that our children and families benefit”.
The petition currently has nearly 1,900 signatures.
The Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP), a federal agency housed in Tuscaloosa that advocates for people with disabilities, published an excellent article about what happened and where the process stands.
In the article, ADAP acknowledges that even though there was confusion around the proposed changes, “a good outcome from the tumult surrounding the potential rule change was the fact that parents came together to advocate. We shouldn’t lose that.”
ADAP points to the SEAP as a way for parents and advocates to engage state officials about issues and concerns around special education.
Further, ADAP notes that the SEAP could function better and encourages parents and advocates to volunteer to serve on the SEAP and also to attend the twice-yearly meetings held in June and December.
The Special Education Advisory Panel
The SEAP is a federally-mandated state-level committee that is comprised of parents and special education providers, among others, with the purpose of advising state education officials about the needs of children receiving special education services.
ADAP published this fact sheet listing some of the duties of the SEAP:
- Advising the state of unmet needs in the education of children with disabilities,
- Commenting publicly on any state rules or regulations regarding the education of children with disabilities,
- Advising the state regarding federal monitoring data collection and developing corrective action plans to remedy any findings identified in federal monitoring, and
- Advising the state in developing and implementing policies relating to the coordination of services for children with disabilities.
Having attended SEAP meetings since 2010, I can attest to the importance of attending if you want to interface with state officials and other parents to improve special education in Alabama.
The next SEAP meeting will be held Thursday, June 11, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in Montgomery. Here’s the address of where it will be held: Alabama Industrial Development Training Center (AIDT), 15 Technology Court, Montgomery, AL 36116-3200.
And here’s a map:
If you are unable to attend in person, you can participate online by requesting access from Susan Goldthwaite, sgoldthwaite(at)alsde.edu.
During the public participation portion, anyone is allowed to speak and share concerns about special education in Alabama.
If you would rather not speak, you can send written comments via email to Goldthwaite or by mail to ALSDE, Special Education Services Section, P.O. Box 302101, Montgomery, Alabama 36130-2101.
Parents and Advocates Came Together and Were Heard
According to the October 2014 Child Count (when school districts submit the number of children receiving special education services to the ALSDE), 82,355, or 11%, of Alabama’s 744,238 students receive services for a disability.
On the Alabama Autism and Asperger Info and Support Network Facebook page, Tumlin acknowledged the power of the collective voice, thanking all who signed the petition.
He also acknowledged the need to remain vigilant, saying, “We can be that solution through being smarter advocates, attending training opportunities, and supporting the organizations, support groups and non-profits that actually help and produce tangible benefits through their action. It’s easy to talk but harder to walk.”
Looks like they walked the walk this time.
[Pssst: Here’s a pie chart of what percentage of students have which disability. More on these numbers in a future article.]