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Increasing the Number of Students with Disabilities Served by Public Charter Schools

Increasing the Number of Students with Disabilities Served by Public Charter Schools

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For schools, use of stimulus money falls short of big hopes |

For schools, use of stimulus money falls short of big hopes |

Now there’s a shocker!

Special Education Vouchers Prevent Mislabeling, Study Says

Special Education Vouchers Prevent Mislabeling, Study Says EdWeek Article

I write from the Florida special needs voucher trenches – I am both an attorney for parents of disabled public school students and a fierce proponent of the McKay Scholarship. I don’t doubt the results of Greene and Winters’ study which addresses those students with “marginal” disabilities. But special needs vouchers may provide an even greater benefit (to both schools and parents) for moderately disabled students.
In my experience, the most severely disabled get expensive special education services, regardless of what the quality of those services may be. But there are few private schools (at least in South Florida) which can meet the needs of those students at a reasonable cost – even if a parent gets the maximum allowable McKay Scholarship to private school – about $20,000!

Because of the way Florida special education funding is structured there is no added incentive for giving special ed. services to the moderately disabled – the schools do not get more money for labeling or serving them than they get for the mild or marginally disabled. Yet, the moderately disabled are more difficult and expensive to educate. Thus, I have found that Florida parents of the moderately disabled tend to be less satisfied with the public schools which generally are not effectively educating them.

If a parent of a moderately disabled student leaves public school with a McKay voucher worth let’s say $10,000/year, that money could put a good dent in a private school tuition which may do a better job educating that child. At the same time, the school district still retains the federal special ed. funds for that child but is no longer responsible for the touch job of educating him or her.

The bottom line is that while special needs vouchers may not decrease the financial incentive to label students who are moderately disabled, they may result in a win-win situation for both schools and parents. And the largest growth in the use of special needs vouchers may come from those students, given Response to Intervention.

If RtI Isn’t Working for Your Child: Knowing Your Legal Rights

Response to Intervention (RtI) is a 3-tiered process of research-based instruction, which is part of federal law (IDEA 2004). Before RtI, in order to get considered for special education services (an “IEP”) the main thing your struggling learner needed was a psycho-educational evaluation (conducted by a private or public school psychologist). The evaluation needed to show that he or she had unexpectedly low achievement in reading or math (known as the “discrepancy formula“). RtI is a multi-step process of increasingly intensive and individualized instruction above and beyond what usually happens in the classroom. It will hopefully be more effective for struggling learners than special ed instruction, but the fear is that RtI (which is very complicated and labor-intensive) will be nothing more than an ineffective roadblock to an IEP.  Now that RtI will be growing exponentially (due to support from economic stimulus money), there are a new series of steps between your child and special ed services, and those steps make up the RtI process.

A New Course of Action:

If you believe your child may have a specific learning disability (SLD), he/she will probably be starting RtI (like all students) before obtaining a psycho-educational evaluation. Implementing an RtI system does not change a school district’s legal obligation to identify students with disabilities. By law, you have the right to request an evaluation at any time in the process, whether or not your child has demonstrated a lack of responsiveness to RtI instruction. Your written consent to an evaluation automatically starts the special education process and puts a time frame on the RtI process so that it can’t go on for months or even years.

Bottom Line: If Your Child is Not Progressing Well in School and you think he or she may have a learning disability:

1. Immediately Request and Sign Your Written Consent to a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation performed by a school psychologist. Note: If the school does not allow you to sign your consent, you have the right to file a due process complaint to an administrative law judge.

2. Your Written Consent will trigger the special education (“IEP”) process. The school district will have 60 days  to complete the evaluation and complete the RtI process. Note: If the RtI process were allowed to extend the time frame for determining eligibility for an IEP past 60 days, but the 60 day time frame applied to everyone else, the school district would be discriminating against children with learning disabilities.

3. At the end of the 60 day period, the school must invite you to a meeting when the team will review both the RtI progress monitoring data and the psycho-ed. evaluation to determine if your child is eligible for special education services. If you  believe your child has been unfairly denied an IEP, you have the right to file a due process complaint to an administrative law judge.

© Copyright 2009 Florida School Partners, P.L.

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Congress Comes to the Rescue of Learning Disabled Students: Now Easier to Get a 504 Plan

In the past, as many of you know, it has been extremely difficult for a learning disabled student who has performed well in school by compensating for his or her disabilities to obtain a 504 Plan.  That was because the law (Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as interpreted by most school districts) stated that students who achieved well in school could not, by definition, have a disability which “substantially limited” the “major life activity” of learning – even if they suffered from a learning disability, ADHD or other disability.

Getting a 504 Plan for that type of student should be very substantially easier now.

On January 1, 2009, the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 went into effect. In developing that law the Senate specifically stated that when considering whether a student is eligible for the protections of the ADA (i.e., higher education students or applicants for accommodations for high stakes exams, such as the SAT, GRE, LSAT etc) or of Section 504 (i.e., students in grades K-12), students should not be penalized because medication, such as Adderall or Focalin, helps their disability or because they have developed strategies to compensate for the negative effects of their disability, such as repeatedly reading a passage to understand it.   (See Congressional Record – Senate, September 16, 2008 Statement of Managers – S. 3406, page S8842).

The Senate specifically stated the following when considering the condition, manner or duration in which an individual with a specific learning disability performs a major life activity, such as reading, thinking and learning. “ . . . it is critical to reject the assumption that an individual who has performed well academically cannot be substantially limited in activities such as learning, reading writing, thinking or speaking.” (See Congressional Record – Senate, September 16, 2008 Statement of Managers – S. 3406, page S8842).

This is absolutely fantastic news for many students, such as my former self, who have struggled, successfully or unsuccessfully, to compensate for their disability by for instance, staying up until late hours to complete homework or other assignments – often at great cost to their self-esteem, social life and emotional health.  Now the 504 team cannot simply reject that student’s plea for accommodations because they have done well or merely OK in school.

© Copyright 2009 Florida School Partners, P.L.

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Accommodations in Grades K-12. How to Navigate the Public System. . .


Once the psycho-educational evaluation of your son or daughter is complete (See the Post below entitled “How Do I  Know if My Child Needs Accomodations” for more details on this), if a disability is found the next step will be to have a school meeting to determine if that disability significantly impacts his or her educational performance.  That sounds simple enough, but can actually be a great sticking point, particularly for gifted and disabled students. I covered that topic in detail in an article reprinted on the ISER web site. One thing is for sure that a student does not have to be failing in order to qualify for a 504 Plan or IEP, as many school districts would like you to believe.

If you disagree with a school districts’ evaluation because it’s inadequate or inaccurate, you have the right under federal law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to request an Independent Educational Evaluation. – that is, a private evaluation at public expense.  If the school district refuses to grant an I.E.E., they must sue you in administrative court to prove that their evaluation is appropriate.

If the evaluation shows that he or she has any type of disability which impacts his educational performance (according to school district standards, of course), the student will get an I.E.P. or a 504 Plan.  Then the IEP or 504 Team, which includes a parent, discusses what accommodations would be necessary for your child to be successful in school.  Here are some of the questions the team may ask:  How independent is the student in completing assignments?; Can the student be expected to use the same kind of books as others students?; Would a peer buddy help?; Does the child need physical/occupational supports – such as a slant board, foot rest or weighted blanket?

For a detailed list of types of accommodations, go to this web site FAPE and click on the document entitled “School Accommodations and Modifications.”

© Copyright 2009 Florida School Partners, P.L.

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