Special Education Advisory Panel Meeting – June 7, 2012

The Special Education Advisory Panel (SEAP) meeting was held at the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS) building in Montgomery on Thursday, June 7.  The meeting began at 9:30 a.m.  I wore two hats to the meeting:  that of the Alabama School Connection and as Vice President of Legislative and Advocacy for the Community Outreach Special Education Parent Teacher Association (COSEPTA).  I am not a member of the SEAP.  I attended as an interested observer.  The meeting is a public meeting.  Additionally, the public was provided access through WebEx.  Pre-registration for the WebEx presentation was required.

The SEAP is a state advisory panel mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) “for the purpose of providing policy guidance with respect to special education and related services for children with disabilities in the State.”  

Membership on the panel must be from the following categories:

  • parents of children with disabilities (ages birth through 26);
  • individuals with disabilities;
  • teachers;
  • representatives of institutions of higher education that prepare special education and related services personnel;
  • State and local education officials, including officials who carry out activities under subtitle B of title VII of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11431 et seq.);
  • administrators of programs for children with disabilities;
  • representatives of other State agencies involved in the financing or delivery of related services to children with disabilities;
  • representatives of private schools and public charter schools;
  • not less than 1 representative of a vocational, community, or business organization concerned with the provision of transition services to children with disabilities;
  • a representative from the State child welfare agency responsible for foster care; and
  • representatives from the State juvenile and adult corrections agencies.

Additionally, under a Special Rule, the “majority of the members of the panel shall be individuals with disabilities or parents of children with disabilities (ages birth through 26).  Here is a list of SEAP members for 2011-2012.  It appears that only three members are “parents”, which would seem to indicate that Alabama’s SEAP does not meet this requirement.  This will be presented to the ALSDE for further discussion about how to get Alabama’s SEAP in compliance with this requirement.

It is unclear how Alabama’s SEAP members were chosen to serve on the panel, but I plan to learn about that process and will share what I learn here.

The SEAP’s duties include:

  • advise the State educational agency of unmet needs within the State in the education of children with disabilities;
  • comment publicly on any rules or regulations proposed by the State regarding the education of children with disabilities;
  • advise the State educational agency in developing evaluations and reporting on data to the Secretary under section 618;
  • advise the State educational agency in developing corrective action plans to address findings identified in Federal monitoring reports under this part; and
  • advise the State educational agency in developing and implementing policies relating to the coordination of services for children with disabilities.

In meetings I have attended, I have not yet seen the SEAP advise the ALSDE about anything.  Rather, I have seen the ALSDE present information to the SEAP for approval, which seems a bit backwards from what IDEA mandates.

The meeting started on time at 9:30 a.m.

Ms. Susan Williamson introduced members of the ALSDE that were present, including Dr. Linda Felton-Smith, Director of Learning Support, Crystal Richardson, Special Education Coordinator, Teresa Farmer, who works with the State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG), Shirley Farrell, who works with the Gifted program, and Deborah Rainwater, who works with the State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report (SPP/APR) which is the state’s statistical data that must be reported to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE).

Crystal Richardson, Special Education Coordinator, gave a timeline of events since the group had met last December.

    • January – Dr. Tommy Bice took over as State Superintendent.
    • February – The October 2011, Child Count and APR were submitted to the USDOE
      • The ALSDE’s new organizational chart was unveiled which placed Special Education under Learning Support; Learning Support also includes Federal Programs, Prevention and Support Services, and Technology Initiatives
    • late March – Dr. Bice unveiled Plan 2020, which is the ALSDE’s strategic plan for improving educational outcomes in Alabama.
    • Richardson stated that they have met a few times as a staff to see how special education relates to Plan 2020

According to the October 2011, Child Count, there are 80,149 students with disabilities in Alabama, and 52,857 gifted students.

They have filled 6 of the 7 vacancies in Special Education.  Joe Allen is a former Special Education Coordinator in Butler County and served as a principal in Crenshaw County at Highland Home School as well.  He is reviving the “Help for Principals” program from the 1990s to make sure principals know details, rules, and other things about Special Education.

Teresa Farmer is working with SPDG and the Makes Sense strategies.  Eric Dixon is working with data accountability.  Cindy Mullins is the “autism contact person” and is working with extended standards for students with significant disabilities. Tommy Goggins and Kay Spivey will be working in Special Education beginning on June 18, 2012.

Vocational Rehab Services was cited (I’m guessing by the USDOE) during monitoring.  If VRS uses funding for job coaches, then they cannot use those coaches to work with students working toward their Alabama Occupational Diplomas (AODs).  The job coaches can work with students who are working on a regular diploma or a graduation certificate.  Students who are working toward AODs must be served by the Career Tech division.

Richardson mentioned Project Search, a one year school-to-work program that helps students with significant disabilities transition from school to adult life.  It is a pilot program.  Three school districts were mentioned:  Madison (didn’t say city or county), Shelby, and one other that I couldn’t make out but sounded like Montgomery County.

Dr. Bice planned to meet with staff in the Special Education area later on Thursday about the future of the AOD.  They plan to propose the AOD be an endorsement on a regular diploma.

The Special Education department is going to work with LEAs (school districts) to learn what it is they need to help them better serve students in special education.  It will be organized into 11 teams in the inservice areas (regional inservice center locations indicated at the link on the left menu).  The Special Education department has been reorganized to have a  Regional Specialist for each of the areas.  Richardson said they are excited to work with other departments within the ALSDE on a united, partnership approach.

Dr. Linda Felton-Smith, Director of Learning Support, thanked the members of the panel for their service.  She said their department is looking forward to working with other departments within the ALSDE, including federal programs and ARI, as all of the sections impact children.  She is looking forward to working with schools to talk about the things that they need and how the ALSDE can help local schools better serve children.

Felton-Smith mentioned the book “Unmistakeable Impact” by Dr. Jim Knight and that the book is guiding their activities at the ALSDE.

Williamson spoke next about the SPDG, which is a grant that was a 5-year grant, ending on June 30, 2012.  They have worked with the Alabama Parent Education Center and have helped provide training to parents in the area of literacy, numeracy and behavior.  Under the SPDG, they have also put on a Part C Early Intervention Conference.

They have worked with Reach Out and Read Alabama.  Reach Out and Read is a partnership with pediatrician’s offices across Alabama where they give books to patients and encourage parents to read with their children.  There is a strong disability awareness component to help parents recognize early signs of disability.  128,204 age-appropriate books were given out in Alabama during 2010-2011.  The program in Alabama has grown from 25 to 70 sites.  Many sites have chosen to replicate themselves, even without grant money, which was the goal.

Another activity under the SPDG was to provide Multi-Sensory Structured Language Training to teachers.  There are 39 teachers in Year 1 training and 28 teachers in Year 2.  The purpose of the training is to enable teachers to work with students identified with dyslexia.  Currently serve 52 schools in 27 LEAs.  There are 40 potential language therapists (which is what they become as a result of training) they will work with this summer.

They continue to work with the Adolescent Literacy Project.  They have a partnership with the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) to work with general education and special education teachers to help students with disabilities in Mobile County.

There is additional training going on: what she called “Level 1 Training in the KUCRL Instructional Coaching Model” for educational and administrative leaders in the “out-cohorts” and also representatives from the ALSDE divisions who have utilized coaching.  Participants received two books by Dr. Jim Knight “Instructional Coaching:  A Partnership Approach” and “Unmistakable Impact”, which Williamson mentioned is now in use by the entire ALSDE (as was mentioned earlier).

They have implemented challenging math and science curricula for high-functioning students with disabilities.  The science document is available on the SPDG web site at www.alspdg.org.  [Note: The web site stated that these curricula are for any student, not only high-functioning students with disabilities.]  Math will be disseminated shortly and they are in the process of releasing Social Studies and Language Arts.  It will eventually be on the ALEX site, too.

They have made video training available to all school districts on these subjects:  Effective Co-Teaching, Implications of Emergent Literacy for Diverse Learners, Disability Based Bullying and Harassment: Investigation, Response and Prevention.  The courses will be available through September 2013.

Dr. Sheila Martin, Special Education Coordinator for Mobile County Schools, spoke about their effort to overcome deficits in reading and math on state assessments.  It always came back to the issue of teacher training.  She said they didn’t have the capacity to give teachers what they need, including monitoring, side-by-side coaching, and feedback.

Martin spoke of the history of their work in Mobile County which included mandatory ARI training for special education teachers, and how it didn’t result in as much success as they had hoped.  She said they struggled with what to do, and looked to the SPDG grant for funding for additional training opportunities.

They decided to conduct a pilot utilizing ARI and Language Exclamation Point (Language!).  They used two personnel to train teams of general education and special education teachers in selected elementary and middle schools feeding into Bryant High School in Mobile.  The details of the professional development and outcomes are contained in the archived WebEx presentation (which I will post a link to as soon as I can find it).  The program consisted of professional development for teachers in grades 4 through 9 in varying areas that would help teachers in their efforts to teach students with disabilities.  Various outcomes were measured.

Williamson spoke next of a new concept to go forward with when seeking the new SPDG grant.   The Request for Proposal (RFP) has not yet been released, but she wanted the SEAP’s support and approval for going forward.

Her presentation began with “We can, whenever we choose, teach students whose schooling is important to us.  Because we already know more than we need to know to do that.”  Also, “Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”  She referenced Plan 2020 and their desire to improve outcomes for all students.

They plan to do fewer things but do them very well in the next SPDG cycle.  Williamson was very inspired by the Mobile County project and the leaders of the project.  She stated that seeing the effects on the children has been “breathtaking and humbling”.

Sustainability of success is the key.  The first consideration must be selection of a site to offer training.  People have to be ready for change to occur in order for the project to be successful and sustainable.  Teachers must have support to work through difficulties along the road in reform efforts.  They believe the ongoing support exemplified in the Mobile County project is a key to that district’s success.

A model was shared outlining the strategic process they intend to model.  When I figure out how to draw it and share it online, I will.  It mentioned “Parent Partnerships” and “Community Partnerships” and “Behavior and Community Building”, which all sounds very exciting.

Williamson referenced Dr. Jim Knight (the author of the books previously mentioned) and his work on The Big Four, which are essential for instructional success.  She recommended that we Google that to learn more about his work.  Here’s a link to a video of Dr. Knight on The Big Four and here’s a link to a PDF about The Big Four.  The Big Four are:  classroom management, content planning, instruction, and assessment for learning.

Williamson shared the achievement gaps on the 2010-2011 Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT).  They were graphs and I cannot find them online.  They showed big gaps in achievement among children in special education when compared to other subgroups.  Here is a document outlining achievement gaps among Alabama’s students found on the ALSDE site, dated May 8, 2012.

Alabama continues to focus on the inclusive classroom, with 83% of students with disabilities being included in the regular classroom more than 80% of the class day.

Debbie Anderson then asked if the SEAP would support the ALSDE in moving forward with the SPDG grant and asked for a recommendation from the panel.  It was recommended and seconded by the panel.  A vote was taken.  It was unanimously supported.

Deborah Rainwater provided an update on the State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report (SPP/APR).  The FFY2010 SPP/APR was submitted on January 31, 2012.  It was due February 1.

The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) asked the ALSDE to clarify indicators 3 (statewide assessments), 4 (suspensions and expulsions), 5 (least restrictive environment), 10 (disproportionality in specific disability categories), 20 (rubric).  The SPP/APR has been posted for FFY2010.  District profiles have been posted as well.

They are in the process of notifying LEAs if they have met requirements or need assistance implementing Part B of the IDEA (special education services for ages 5 to 21).

The ALSDE is waiting on OSEP response for the FFY2010 SPP/APR.  It usually arrives around the first of June.

We took a break and returned for the opportunity for public comment, which was to start at 11:00 a.m.

During the public comment portion, anyone can speak simply by raising your hand.  Because the meeting was being broadcast via WebEx, participants were asked to speak into a microphone.

The public comment section started promptly at 11:00 a.m.  The first person to speak was a parent who shared her difficulties with her son’s special education teacher, who had restrained her son during school for a period of 15 minutes.  Because she questioned the teacher about this, she believes she has been retaliated against by the teacher, as the Department of Human Resources has visited her house and claimed that her son has been neglected.  She has worked with the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program to ensure laws are followed and training is given to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

This parent made the following suggestions:

    1. Children should be given Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBAs).
    2. Teachers must list everything they did before they used restraints.
    3. Schools must be monitored for the use of restraint.
    4. Penalties/consequences must be created for schools or special education teachers who overuse restraints.
    5. Paraprofessionals should be allowed a way to report improper use of restraint without fear of losing their jobs.

I spoke next, and asked the panel to please consider devising a way for students to utilize their Physical Education (P.E.) period to receive services during the school day instead of missing an opportunity to take an elective class.  This typically becomes a problem for students in middle school (grades six through eight) who are in a Foundations-type class and also need to receive occupational or other therapies or perhaps additional remedial help during the school day.  I asked the state to please find a way to allow this, as many students find P.E. to be difficult (due to the social aspect and the general craziness that is P.E.) and these students may find an elective as a great way to express themselves and find talents.

I also asked the panel to please reconsider the “n-size” that is used when overhauling their accountability and assessment system this summer.  The “n-size” is the minimum number of students that must be in a subgroup before their test results “count” in Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards.  Alabama’s current n-size is 40, meaning if a school does not have 40 children in special education being tested within a grade span (3-5, 6-8 or 11th), there is no accountability for whether these students are proficient in math or reading.  Many states have n-sizes below 40, and one state has no minimum n-size.  I contend that schools and districts might pay better attention to this subgroup’s results if they were held accountable for those results.

I thanked them for pursuing partnerships with local schools and school districts.

Nancy Anderson, Senior Staff Attorney for ADAP, spoke next.  She questioned whether the panel generates a list of priorities for the ALSDE’s special education department to consider, and if so, please consider the following 4 things:

of states.  Knowing that any change in monitoring at the federal level will result in changes to the state-level monitoring, would the ALSDE please consider implementing a process that involves stakeholders (parents, consumers, students, teachers, disability advocates) in revamping the state process?  She wants to see the SEAP get integrally involved in that process, similar to many years ago when OSEP last majorly revamped that process.

    1. Regarding the AOD endorsement to a regular diploma, please consider what that might do for students’ rights to continue to stay in school and receive services until age 21.  If the student graduates with a regular diploma, currently all services end.  Students who receive the AOD are often those who will need services till age 21.
    2. Medicaid is shifting its funding for children with significant disabilities going in to “sheltered workshops”. How will the movement away from “sheltered workshops” affect the state’s work to prepare children for the world when sheltered workshops no longer exist?  The ALSDE needs to ensure they are in step with the movement and she would like to see stakeholders, especially parents, involved in that discussion.
    3. She would like to see better monitoring of seclusion and restraint.

A parent then spoke about how inclusion in the regular classroom, along with a stellar team invested in her child’s success, made a tremendous difference in her son’s education.  She stated her son had been “segregated” during his 3rd through 5th grade year, but during his 6th grade year he was included in the regular classroom, and he learned so much more and made tremendous progress in grade-level learning, from kindergarten level at the end of his 5th grade year to being at a 6th-grade level in many areas.  She has asked her school system to look at her son’s 6th-grade team to determine why they were so successful and work to model whatever it is they did to give that opportunity for success to more children.

She also spoke of the overuse and improper use of restraint, stating that she had previously worked for a school system as a paraprofessional and was frustrated by knowing a proper course to deal with students’ behavior, but being told by people in authority to use seclusion or restraint.  She no longer works for that school system.

The comments ended at 11:20 a.m.  Members of the SEAP stayed until noon to receive any other public comments.

At that point, Mrs. Nancy Anderson of ADAP asked questions about how the SEAP functions and do they meet any time outside of the twice-yearly meetings.

Mrs. Debbie Anderson, Chair of the SEAP, stated that no the SEAP does not meet outside of the meeting and if anything needs to be communicated, it is shared via e-mail.

Nancy Anderson then asked what happens to the comments made by the public.  Debbie Anderson stated that Susan Williamson has been taking notes and will disseminate the comments to the panel.

Nancy Anderson asked what happens to the comments and what action is then taken?  She stated it would be helpful for the public to know what happens next after they’ve made a comment.  If nothing happens, could there be a new process developed?

Crystal Richardson said that she wasn’t aware of a formal process, but that there certainly could be a way for the SEAP to formally submit those comments to the ALSDE for consideration.  That would be up to the SEAP if they wanted to do that.

Debbie Anderson stated she would like that to be done.  There should be a way to take the comments from the public and look at a way to bring those to the table for the SEAP’s next meeting and she will look into how to get that done.

While no announcement was made (or else I missed it), the next meeting is probably scheduled for December 2012.

Between now and then, much can change for children receiving special education services in Alabama.  Dr. Bice has announced a complete overhaul in the way the ALSDE and our schools assess learning and are held accountable for student learning.  He has also stated that Alabama will request a flexibility waiver available to states under USDOE Secretary Arne Duncan’s rule changes.  Understanding that how teachers, schools, school districts and the ALSDE are held accountable for outcomes for children of disabilities often determines how much attention is paid to that area, this will be an important area to which the Alabama school community and groups like COSEPTA should pay close attention.


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