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February 28, 2024 Meeting Minutes - Welcome All Inclusive, Services, Advocacy, Unified Sports, Dispute Resolution, and More!

Updated: Mar 4

PALS Meeting Minutes

February 28, 2024 9:30 a.m.

Virtual Meeting using Zoom


Welcome All Inclusive Group for Fox Chapel Students and Parents

We welcomed Kristen Farringer to today's meeting. This past Sunday Kristen started a movement with one Facebook post. Kristen created All Inclusive Group for Fox Chapel Students and Parents, a private Facebook Group. With the same mounting frustration many have expressed in the past twenty-three years of PALS meetings, Kristen took action looking for support through shared experiences. In her own words, Kristen wrote, "...let's all talk, and get to know one another, share our stories and help each other out! There is power in numbers and if Fox Chapel can spend tons of money on their honor students who "make the district look good" they can help our kids too! They deserve it just as much."


Truer words have not been written and considering the growth of the group in just a few days Kristen is not alone. To learn more about the All Inclusive Group for Fox Chapel Students and Parents, request to join the private group on Facebook. Additionally, Kristen encourages everyone to the group's first Meet and Greet on Monday, March 4th at 6:00p.m. at the atrium inside Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church, 384 Fox Chapel Road 15238. Parking in the big lot. Help Kristen prepare with an RSVP.


Open Forum

Open Forum is an opportunity for participants to come together and discuss a variety of topics, offer resources, and ask questions related to special education.


Choosing A School

Whether you are thinking of moving into a particular school district or already living in it, choosing the best school placement for your child is important and deeply personal. It can also be concerning and frustrating. Over the years families have come to PALS meetings inquiring about participants experience with FCASD. While there are many families who express a positive experience, with the feeling their child was receiving the services they needed at school; there are just as many frustrated by a reactive system. For those families, frustration grows within the process, by feeling as if they must figure it out on their own and without 100% support from the school district, and being hit with a hard no when families request accommodations; to name a few concerns.


That is where family advocacy comes in. Regardless of where your child goes to school, educating yourself is vital because you know your child best. There are so many resources, services, and support groups available it can be overwhelming. Over the years PALS has recommended the PEAL Center (Parent Education and Advocacy Leadership Center) as a fantastic special needs resource especially when it comes to learning how to advocate for your child related to early interventions, evaluation and re-evaluation, special education, and healthcare. A great start is their newly formed FREE PEAL Advocacy Academy, offering a self-paced online IEP course for families. Find more information about advocacy below.


Within this conversation we also discussed:

  • Pre-K Retention; waiting an extra year before starting Kindergarten with some families wishing that had retained their child in pre-k and others feeling the move to retain was the right one.

  • River Academy of Excellence; a family recently toured RAE and was very impressed with the program. Unfortunately FCASD did not approve the change in educational placement in that case. Cherie River joined the November PALS meeting to introduce River Academy of Excellence. *River Pediatric Therapies, a RAE sister organization, frequently donates to PALS.

  • DART Act 212, the Early Intervention System Act, entitles all preschool age children with disabilities to appropriate early intervention services. Young children experiencing developmental delay or physical or mental disabilities are eligible for early entrance services. He or she is considered to have a developmental delay when difficulties exist in the areas of cognitive, communicative, physical social /emotional and self help development. Services for special needs children, three years old to entry age, who reside in suburban Allegheny County, are serviced through the Pennsylvania Department of Education funding. This preschool program is presently coordinated by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Early Childhood and Family Support Services program, DART.

  • Head Start The Head Start program provides eligible preschool children in Allegheny County with high quality, comprehensive, in-home or classroom programming designed to support school readiness skills. The program offers education services that include health and wellness information, education, social services, and family engagement.


Support Services and Educational Advocates

We briefly spoke about a number of support services and educational advocates. This is not a complete list of area resources.


Types of Support Services including

  • Developmental Therapy

  • Speech and Language Therapy

  • Feeding & Nutrition

  • Behavioral Health Therapy

  • Social Skills Support

  • Physical Therapy

  • Hearing & Vision

  • Medical Complexity Support

  • Occupational Therapy

  • Social Work

  • Housing Support

  • Employment Support

  • Family Support

  • Respite Care

  • Transition Support

  • Pain Support

  • Care Coordination

  • Transportation Support


One-on-One Support in Schools

"When the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team or Section 504/Chapter 15 team determines that a student with a disability requires one-to-one support for all or part of the school day, the LEA retains the obligation to provide services to students with disabilities. The source for providing or paying for the one-to-one support to a student with a disability, including the availability of medical assistance funded resources, cannot delay the receipt of the one-to-one services."
"The term one-to-one support means the individualized adult support provided in order to address the behavioral and care needs of a student with a disability, over and above the individualized educational support that the student would normally receive from the teaching staff, including paraprofessionals."

Support Coordinators including

  • Staunton Clinic "Staunton Clinic is a mental health and intellectual disabilities treatment and resource coordination center. Staunton Clinic provides a number of diverse services that assist people from all walks of life who are seeking to recover from a temporary or more long-term mental health condition."

  • Familylinks "Familylinks provides referrals and support services to individuals throughout their lives, from children as young as age three to adults and seniors with autism, intellectual, and developmental disabilities."

  • Achieving True Self "Achieving True Self is proud to serve the community at large. Our treatment services are data-driven and delivered through the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) -- a practice supported by over five decades of scientific research. Our history and experience providing behavioral health treatment with a strong family systems approach proves effective in assessment and treatment of persons with autism and behavioral health diagnoses in creating sustainable change. Our team members focus on the transference of skills throughout all stages of treatment to support the ultimate independence of the individual served, their family, and their surrounding community."

  • Wesley Family Services "Wesley Family Services is a non-profit organization that serves more than 20,000 individuals annually throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. Our more than 900 caring staff members and highly trained and licensed clinicians are committed to providing high-quality behavioral healthcare services and support programs to children, adults, and families over the course of their lifespan so that they are empowered to reach their full potential."

  • Special Kids Network (SKN) "The SKN helpline assists providers and parents of children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) access local services and supports. SKN connects families to resources within their community to allow CYSHCN to be successful and develop to their full potential."


Home Health Aids

One participant warned families using home health aids, saying it is important families to install cameras inside their home to monitor the care of their child by aids. They went on to say most aids seem wonderful at first, however


Special Education Advocates including

Special education advocates can help families understand their rights, obtain the special education services your child needs, facilitate disputes with school districts, attend IEP meetings, and interpret evaluations. Some advocates assist families with special education support in general, others specialists; i.e., Autism, Vision and Hearing, Physical, Dyslexia, etc. There are advocates available to families for free and those who are paid. Advocates are not attorneys.


"Unlike other professions, there are no degrees or licenses required to be a special education advocate. This means that basically anyone can call him or herself an advocate. Before working with any advocate – whether you are paying for the services or getting them for free – you should ask questions about the person's experience, training, and background to make sure the person is a good fit for your family and situation." - Children's Hospital of Philadelphia


"Navigating through educational, medical, government, and adult service systems can be difficult and overwhelming when a family member has a disability. Achieva Advocacy can help."


  • The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh "Founded in 1950 from a grassroots movement of families working to create services for children and adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD). Since its founding, The Arc has advocated for students with I/DD to have access to educational supports and services. The Arc@School is The Arc’s initiative focused on special education. The mission of The Arc@School is to build the capacity of parents, educators, advocates, and our nationwide network of chapters to provide individual advocacy that helps students with I/DD navigate the special education system."


  • Autism Connection of Pennsylvania "Founded in 1996, Autism Connection of PA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, serving thousands of people seeking help for autism concerns. We understand, and provide text, email and phone support plus weekly autism news and information. We consult on arts, culture, school and justice issues and sponsor support groups across Pennsylvania."


A Google Search of "Education Advocates Pittsburgh" or "Special Education Advocates Pittsburgh" will provide additional advocates in the area.


Hone Your Advocacy Skills including

As mentioned above, the PEAL Center newly formed PEAL Advocacy Academy, offers a FREE self-paced online IEP course for families.


"The Arc@School's Advocacy Curriculum has created an online training for chapter staff, parents, school staff, and other special education advocates. It provides the basic information an advocate needs to help students with disabilities get support at school." Cost $99.00


Graduation Requirements

We spoke extensively in the past about FCASD graduation requirements (February 2023, April 2023 (extensive look), September 2023), however today we spoke about FCASD graduation related to of special education. We discussed including FCAHS graduation requirements service learning hours being included in the IEPs of students whose families support the opportunity. When it comes to Graduation for Students With Disabilities, FCASD Board Policy states;

"Students With Disabilities -
The Board shall permit a student with a disability, whose Individualized Education Program (IEP) prescribes continued educational services, to participate in commencement ceremonies with the student's graduating class and receive a certificate of attendance, provided that the student has attended four (4) years of high school. The Board shall issue a high school diploma to each student with a disability who completes the graduation requirements established by the Board or the goals established in the student's IEP, as determined by the student's IEP team.[1][10][11][12][13][14][15]"

A review of the Pennsylvania Department of Education showed the Graduation Requirements for Students with Disabilities is currently being revised:

"According to the Pennsylvania Code (22 PA Code § 4.24(g)), a student with disabilities may graduate one of two ways. A student with disabilities may graduate either through the fulfillment of high school graduation requirements set forth in Chapter 4 (relating to academic standards and assessment) or upon the completion of his/her individualized education program (IEP) goals. Graduation with a regular high school diploma is a change in educational placement that requires an IEP team meeting. The IEP team makes the determination whether the student will graduate with a regular high school diploma through meeting the requirements of 22 PA Code Chapter 4. The regular high school diploma that is awarded to students in Pennsylvania is fully aligned with the state’s academic content standards and does not include a GED credential, certificate of attendance, or any alternative award."

The Education Law Center reminds families that;

"STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES CAN GRADUATE THROUGH THEIR IEP
Any student with a disability who satisfactorily completes a special education program developed by an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team and who does not otherwise meet the new statewide requirements (Act 158 or Act 6) shall be provided a regular high school diploma. A student with a disability also has the right to participate in commencement ceremonies with the student's graduating class and receive a certificate of attendance even if the student is not graduating until later."

Additionally, the PA Department of Education recently extended FAPE to a student's 22nd birthday. Under new PA Department of Education policy, students who receive special education services may access their free, appropriate public education until their 22nd birthday. This addition is simply an update to comply with Federal Law.


Ultimately, asking questions is important. Make sure you understand whether your child is graduation based on the goals set within their IEP or the requirements set by the district. Go further by asking how they will be able to use their diploma after graduation. Will their diploma qualify them for entry into a technical school, 2 or 4 year college with the goal of received an Associates or Bachelor Degree, etc. If you're not clear if your child's pathway to graduation meets with your child and family expectations.


Sports

"Participation in activities is the context in which people form friendships, develop skills and competencies, express creativity, achieve mental and physical health, and determine meaning and purpose in life. Children with disabilities tend to be more restricted in their participation than their peers: a gap that widens as children become adults.  One way in which health care professionals can assist children with disabilities to participate fully in the lives of their families and communities is by promoting participation in sports, recreation, and physical activities in the least restrictive environment." - American Academy of Pediatrics; Promoting the Participation of Children With Disabilities in Sports, Recreation, and Physical Activities



  • The School Board Policy on Interscholastic Athletics Section 1 - Programs and is located with all other FCASD Board Policies on the district website.

  • Unified Bocco Team "Fox Chapel Area sponsors two coed indoor bocce teams that integrate students with and without disabilities in a competitive interscholastic sports environment. At this time, the program includes a total of 16 students in grades 9 through 12. Teams participate in at least three competitions against other local high schools, and there is a culminating championship held in March."

  • Unified Track Team "Unified track and field is a fully inclusive coed sports program with the goal of integrating students with and without disabilities in a competitive interscholastic athletic setting. The program is open to boys and girls in 9ththrough 12th grades. Track events include 100-, 400-, and 800-meter races and the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relays. Field events are the shotput, running long jump, and mini-javelin. Teams participate in at least three competitions against other high schools, and there is a culminating championship held in May."

  • Additionally, Dr. Stacie Dojonovic shared, "We keep growing unified sports and have more students participating, we are the only two time unified champion school (see article below), and our very own Landon Torres was interviewed and on the news. We appreciate all of the communities support of ALL students.  So all students need to do is register on the FC athletic website for the season of the unified sport! (your familiar with the physical and the registration requirements for athletics for all sports) it is great all our students participate. We do have one student that we provide a one on on nurse for during all practices and games . It’s amazing to have kids with and without significant disabilities competing together and against other schools. I am a huge fan, coach two sports and always look for more unified opportunities. We have over 40 students who registered for unified track!  Obviously I’m excited and if you want I can have parents join me if you would like us come and talk."

  • For additional information reach out to Head Coach Dr. Stacie Dojonovic, Transition Coordinator FCAHS

  • Sports Leagues Outside of School There are many adaptive sports leagues for athletes with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities in the area. We will expand on this section in the coming days, editing these minutes to include them. For this meeting we spoke about hockey.

    • ASHA the American Special Hockey Association is committed to ensuring that the sport of hockey is both accessible and welcoming for all abilities.

    • Western Pennsylvania Special Hockey Association is the home of the Pittsburgh Emperors. "The association was organize, administer, and promote special ice hockey for the communities of Western Pennsylvania regardless of sex, race, creed, religion, and/or financial situation. WPSHA will try to provide the best possible experience for all involved by encouraging, developing and advancing the core values adopted from USA Hockey and/or American Special Hockey Association ASHA."


IEP Not Implemented in the Classroom

Realizing that your child's IEP is not being implemented by your child's classroom teacher(s) is heart wrenching. As a parent/caregiver you know how hard the IEP Team (you are a part of) worked on setting meaningful goals and SDIs (specially designed instruction). You also know following your child's IEP is not a teacher's choice. It is the law. Keeping a journal can be helpful. An essential step in supporting your child in school is jotting down things you notice in classwork, homework, assessments, progress reports, and report cards. Many families start each school year with a new binder to help keep activities and conversations .


Here are steps you can take to resolve the issue, with each being a level up:


  1. Meet with the teacher.

    1. Although it isn't your responsibility to provide the teacher with a copy of your child's IEP, have one on hand to be kept by the teacher. Make it a conversation, explain why the IEP team decided on the goals and SDIs they did and how it helps your child.

  2. Meet with school administrators.

    1. If you believe the IEP is still not being implemented, speak to the school administrator. Be prepared to provide support; documentation that shows a pattern. Again, make it a conversation.

    2. Chances are a school's vice-principal or principal is listed on your child's IEP as the LEA representative (Local Educational Agency)

  3. Call an IEP meeting.

    1. Meet with all members of your child's IEP Team (remember, you are also a member). Let the rest of the team know of your conversations with the teacher(s) and administrator(s). Then let them know the IEP is still not being implemented.

    2. Ask the other team members how they will intervene to ensure compliance with the IEP. Ask for a plan in writing. As for a team member to monitor the situation.

    3. Schedule a follow-up IEP meeting before leaving to assess the outcome of the plan.

  4. File a complaint with the school district's special education administrator.

    1. Let the special education administrator know you would like to file a formal complaint regarding the continued failure to comply with your child's IEP. Ask if there is a form required or if written notice will do.

    2. While submitting the complaint, request a meeting to discuss the compliant, provide documentation, and the plan to resolve the issue once and for all.

  5. *Decide which path to take next.

  6. Difference Between Due Process Hearing Complaint and State Complaint Procedures

    1. As written in the Procedural Safeguards Notice, "the regulations for Part B of IDEA set forth separate procedures for State complaints and for due process complaints and hearings. As explained below, any individual or organization may file a State complaint alleging a violation of any Part B requirement by a LEA, the State Educational Agency, or any other public agency. Only you or a LEA may file a due process complaint on any matter relating to a proposal or a refusal to initiate or change the identification, evaluation or educational placement of a child with a disability, or the provision of FAPE to the child. While staff of the State Educational Agency generally must resolve a State complaint within a 60-calendar day timeline, unless the timeline is properly extended, an impartial due process hearing officer must hear a due process complaint (if not resoled through a resolution meeting or through mediation) and issue a written decision within 45-calendar days after the end of the resolution period, as described in this document under the heading Resolution Process, unless the hearing officer grants a specific extension of the timeline at your request or the LEA’s request." pages 9 & 10.

  7. File a Complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

    1. As written in the Procedural Safeguards Notice, "an organization or individual may file a signed written State complaint." Instructions found on pages 9–11.

  8. Mediation

    1. As written in the Procedural Safeguards Notice, "the SEA must make mediation available to allow you and the LEA to resolve disagreements involving any matter under Part B of the IDEA, including matters arising prior to the filing of a due process complaint. Thus, mediation is available to resolve disputes under Part B of the IDEA, whether or not you or the LEA have filed a due process complaint to request a due process hearing as described under the heading Filing a Due Process Complaint."

    2. Procedural Requirements found on pages 19–20.

  9. Request a Due Process Hearing

    1. As written in the Procedural Safeguards Notice, "you or the LEA may file a due process complaint on any matter relating to a proposal or a refusal to initiate or change the identification, evaluation or educational placement of your child, or the provision of FAPE to your child."

    2. "The LEA must inform you of any free or low-cost legal and other relevant services available in the area if you request the information, or if you or the LEA file a due process complaint."

    3. "In order to request a hearing, you or the LEA (or your attorney or the LEA’s attorney) must submit a due process complaint to the other party. That complaint must contain all of the content listed below and must be kept confidential. At the same time you or the LEA – whichever filed the complaint – provides the due process complaint to the other party, a copy must be filed with the Office for Dispute Resolution (ODR)."

    4. Process information and instructions found on pages 12–14.

    5. Complete information on Hearings on Due Process Complaints and Appeals found on pages 15–19.



1-800-222-3353, 1-800-992-4334; TTY 1-800-654-5984

The Office for Dispute Resolution coordinates and manages Pennsylvania's special education mediation and due process system. ODR also provides help with procedural safeguards to parents, advocates, school districts, and intermediate units.


Special Education in PA Consult Line 1-800-879-2301 (Voice/TTY/TDD)

"A service of the Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR) and Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN). Help for families and advocates of children with special needs about Special Education Regulations, School Related Concerns, and Procedural Safeguards."


"The Education Law Center (ELC) is a non-profit legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all of Pennsylvania's children have access to a quality public education."


 

Next Meeting: March 20, 2024 9:30 a.m. Virtual Meeting using Zoom.

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