The Alabama School Connection, the Alabama Parent Education Center (APEC) and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) are hosting an informational meeting on Thursday, November 12 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Homewood Public Library in Birmingham, to allow parents and families to learn more about the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) proposed changes to rules governing special education.
Birmingham attorney Deborah A. Mattison will present the changes during the first hour of the meeting. Mattison has been representing parents and families of children with special needs for more than 30 years. She lectures frequently at conferences regarding the legal rights of students with disabilities, both within and outside the state of Alabama.
After the changes have been presented, we invite parents and families to share the experiences they have had with special education in Alabama’s public schools.
APEC, the state’s only federally-funded Parent Training and Information Center for families of children with disabilities, and ADAP, Alabama’s federally-funded protection and advocacy agency that provides legal services to Alabamians with disabilities to protect, promote and expand their rights will be on hand to help parents find resources they need to better advocate on behalf of their children with disabilities in Alabama’s public schools.
Dustin Chandler, co-founder of Interaction Advisory Group, which provides custom training to public officials who interact with people with disabilities, suggested the idea of holding a Birmingham meeting to the Alabama School Connection after he drove from Birmingham to attend the first public hearing in Montgomery on October 14.
None of the three required public hearings were scheduled to be held in Birmingham.
“It’s important to have one in Birmingham, as it’s one of the largest metro areas in our state, and more parents’ voices need to be heard,” Chandler said. “We need to make sure parents understand what these changes are. They may agree with these changes, they may disagree, we don’t know”.
Chandler was concerned about the tone of the Montgomery meeting, saying that it felt like a competition between educators and parents, and that scenario is “very detrimental to trying to advance special education in this state”.
Chandler had great success advocating for Carly’s Law, named for his daughter who has special needs, which legalized the first trials of cannabanoid drug for treating people with seizures.
He questions the timing of these proposed changes, given the overall achievement of children with special needs and the decline in graduation rate for children with disabilities from 2013 to 2014.
“Proficiency numbers are very very low. Every area of graduation rates have gone up in Alabama, except for one, and that’s special education and it dropped 12 ½ points,” Chandler said.
“We’ve got a lot bigger issues in special education that we need to be looking at, not looking at how to constrain parents from making due process complaints,” he added.
Remarking on the reasoning provided by the ALSDE for the changes, Chandler said, “The only argument I heard was the attorney’s fees were costing Alabama’s special education students. That’s just hard for me to believe that attorney’s fees and due process complaints caused a 12 ½% drop in graduation rates,” adding, “why don’t we look at why all of these due process complaints are being filed and see if we can correct the issues of why parents even have to file those complaints.”
Please be certain to understand that the meeting held in Birmingham is not an official public hearing. It is an informational meeting for those who were unable to attend any of the three public hearings and for those who want to learn more about the proposed changes.
The second of three official public hearings was held at Saraland High School on Thursday, October 29, and the final official public hearing held on Wednesday, November 4, at Cullman High School. The meeting will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
If you are able, please take the time to share your thoughts directly with the ALSDE at the one remaining official public hearing or by sending your written comments about the changes to firstname.lastname@example.org not later than November 15, 2015.
Members of the ALSDE’s staff that prepared the changes have been invited to attend the Birmingham meeting.
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