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March 24, 2021 Meeting Minutes - Mental Health, Evaluations, IEEs, MTSS, and Dyslexia

Updated: Mar 26

PALS Meeting Minutes

March 24, 2020 9:30 a.m.

Virtual Meeting using Zoom


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.


Mental Health

For families in the Fox Chapel Area School District in need of Mental Health Resources the district has a dedicated webpage. Included within this page are links to local, state, and national resources for the benefit of all members of the community.

In the past few months we have experienced an uptick in inquiries about 504 Plans for a variety of reasons, ADHD, Anxiety, and Dyslexia to name a few. We are working to arrange a meeting specifically on this topic and hope to have a training session for our May meeting. Please keep an eye out for updates through our e-mails.

Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and Dysgraphia

Many families have expressed their frustration over the years with Pennsylvania's response to Dyslexia which ultimately trickles down to whether or not their children are provided accommodations through a 504 Plan or IEP.


The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) defines it in the following manner:

"Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services."


Dyscalculia.org defines dyscalculia in the following manner:

"Dyscalculia is understood as “math dyslexia,” but is actually a syndrome or collection of characteristics that are marked by underachievement in math in spite of good ability in speaking, reading, and writing. Sometimes dyscalculia occurs with other learning difficulties. The student with dyscalculia loses track when counting; has trouble memorizing and recalling addition and multiplication facts, as well as math procedures and rules. They tend to practice and learn math, but quickly forget, and typically do poorly on tests. Inconsistent math memory causes frustration, avoidance, and anxiety."


The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) defines dysgraphia in the following manner:

"Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder characterized by writing disabilities. Specifically, the disorder causes a person's writing to be distorted or incorrect. In children, the disorder generally emerges when they are first introduced to writing. They make inappropriately sized and spaced letters, or write wrong or misspelled words, despite thorough instruction. Children with the disorder may have other learning disabilities; however, they usually have no social or other academic problems. Cases of dysgraphia in adults generally occur after some trauma. In addition to poor handwriting, dysgraphia is characterized by wrong or odd spelling, and production of words that are not correct (i.e., using "boy" for "child"). The cause of the disorder is unknown, but in adults, it is usually associated with damage to the parietal lobe of the brain."


U.S. Department of Education

In October 2015, the Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Education wrote the following letter. Written in response to reports of the reluctance of local and state educational agencies to "reference or use dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility determinations, or in developing the individualized education program (IEP) under the IDEA." In his letter, Michael K. Yudin clarified, "that there is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents."


As it relates to our conversation, the following are notable points within this letter:


"MTSS, which includes scientific, research-based interventions, also may be used to identify children suspected of having a specific learning disability. With a multi-tiered instructional framework, schools identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, including those who may have dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia; monitor their progress; provide evidence-based interventions; and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness. Children who do not, or minimally, respond to interventions must be referred for an evaluation to determine if they are eligible for special education and related services (34 CFR §300.309(c)(1)); and those children who simply need intense short-term interventions may continue to receive those interventions. OSERS reminds SEAs and LEAs about previous guidance regarding the use of MTSS, including RTI, and timely evaluations,1 specifically that a parent may request an initial evaluation at any time to determine if a child is a child with a disability under IDEA (34 CFR §300.301(b)), and the use of MTSS, such as RTI, may not be used to delay or deny a full and individual evaluation under 34 CFR §§300.304-300.311 of a child suspected of having a disability."


and


"In determining whether a child has a disability under the IDEA, including a specific learning disability, and is eligible to receive special education and related services because of that disability, the LEA must conduct a comprehensive evaluation under §300.304, which requires the use of a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child. This information, which includes information provided by the parent, may assist..."


Pennsylvania's Act 69

Act 69 required that the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) establish an early literacy intervention and dyslexia pilot program using evidence-based screening and then evidence-based instruction and intervention for students who were found to be at risk for future reading difficulties.


PaTTAN: Dyslexia Pilot Project Information Website

"Act 69 of 2014, the Dyslexia and Early Literacy Intervention Pilot Program became effective on June 26, 2014. This Act requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to establish a dyslexia and early literacy intervention pilot program to provide evidence-based early screening and multitier support systems, using evidence-based intervention services for students with potential risk factors for early reading deficiencies and dyslexia, such as low phonemic awareness, low letter and symbol naming and inability to remember sequences. The pilot program shall operate for three full school years beginning with the 2015-2016 school year. The Pennsylvania Department of Education will select at least three school districts to participate in the Pilot Program."


You can read more about the pilot program here and the "parent page" here.


You can read the full report written at the conclusion of the pilot program here.


Resources

Although every child's needs are different, this list of accommodations for students with Dyslexia from the IDA may be helpful.


Pennsylvania chapter of International Dyslexia Association.


504 Plan

*During our last two meetings we held a similar conversations about the initial steps taken when seeking a 504 Plan or Individual Education Plan (IEP) last month. For that reason, we have copy/pasted the information from those meeting minutes below AND included even more from today's meeting.


Like anything new, working through the initial steps of a 504 Plan can be eye opening. We discussed denial, appeals, MTSS, advocacy, IEEs, making changes, and timelines. Below find these topics and more along with a few links for further information:


What is a 504 Plan?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that is intended to give all individuals the same advantages and opportunities, so that individuals with disabilities have an equal chance for success. Chapter 15 of the Pennsylvania Code describes the school’s responsibility in implementing Section 504. In the area of education, Chapter 15/Section 504 protects the individual who has or has had a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, or who is regarded by others as having a disability. Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for one’s self, and performing tasks (see the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act for additional examples of major life activities). The impairment needs only to substantially limit one major life activity for the student to be determined to have a disability. Chapter 15/Section 504 differs from IDEA in that it protects the rights of individuals with disabilities, while IDEA is an educational benefits law that requires special education and related services as determined by a student’s IEP team. All students with IEPs are also covered under Chapter 15/Section 504. Read more from PaTTAN.


What is the difference between a 504 Plan and an IEP?

504 plans aren’t part of special education. So, they’re different from IEPs. 504 plans and IEPs are covered by different laws and work in different ways. The main difference is that a 504 plan modifies a student's regular education program in a regular classroom setting. A 504 plan is monitored by classroom teachers. A student with an IEP, as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), may receive different educational services in a special or regular educational setting, depending on the student's need. IEP programs are delivered and monitored by additional school support staff. Read more from Wrightslaw and KidsHealth.org.


What is the timeline for 504 Plan or IEP?

Federal regulations do not mandate a timeline for Section 504 meetings or for implementation of a 504 plan. A district's school board may implement a policy regarding the 504 Plan procedure. Read more on the subject from Wrightslaw. As it relates to this conversation, here are policy's adopted by FCASD:


PARENT/GUARDIAN REQUEST FOR EVALUATION, TERMINATION, OR MODIFICATION UNDER SECTION 504


PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS NOTIFICATION


Federal regulations do mandate a timeline for all things related to the implementation or and review of IEPs. Although schools were given some flexibility at the end of the 2019-2020 school year due to COVID-19 closures, all schools are expected to adhere to the mandated timelines as of the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. Pennsylvania offers the following on for download:


SPECIAL EDUCATION TIMELINES


Can you appeal a school district's decision regarding a 504 Plan or IEP?

Yes! "Section 504 and IDEA require school districts to conduct impartial hearings for parents who disagree with identification, evaluation, or placement. Under Section 504, the parent has an opportunity to participate and obtain representation by counsel, but other details are left to the discretion of the school district." Read more from Wrightlaw.


PARENT'S RIGHTS UNDERSTANDING THE PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS NOTICE


IEP due process is protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA), and provides parents with the right to resolve disputes with your school district. There are two ways to resolve disputes, mediation and through a due process hearing. McAndrew's Law Firm offers a quick look at the difference in this article. Wrightslaw also offers the following articles to help families:

How to Disagree with the IEP Team Without Starting World War III


IEP FAQs


Familiarize yourself with a district's MTSS efforts as it may relate to a 504 Plan or IEP denial.

When requesting a service, if you hear, "We do this (or that) for all students." the person speaking is most likely talking about MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) formerly known as RtII (Response to Instruction and Intervention). It's great that school district's are required to have a MTSS initiatives in place for all students, that doesn't mean the service being received shouldn't also be included in the 504 Plan or IEP of a student who qualifies for services. For more on MTSS visit PaTTAN. In addition, here's a fantastic article on how NOT to get caught in this trap.


How can you advocate for a 504 Plan for your child?

Data, Data, Data! and Write Things Down! The best advocacy involves a plan. Do your homework, know what to expect, know how the process works, and most importantly, be prepared with your own data. Jot down your observations and make it clear what your child is capable of doing on their own and what requires scaffolding. Have examples of work done with and without assistance. The following article from VeryWellMind.com addresses possible accommodations for students with ADHD, the concepts of which may help you think about to look for in your observations. Read more from Wrightslaw.


McAndrew's Law Firm has an extensive page of articles related to the topic of Special Education. For further information visit, McAndrewsLaw.com.


Independent Education Evaluations (IEE)

We discussed the Independent Education Evaluation (IEE), the impact they have on 504 Plans and IEPs. It is important to remember that although school districts are mandated to consider an IEE, they do not have an obligation to use the recommendations within the IEE while writing a 504 Plan or IEP. For more information on IEEs visit Wrightslaw.


We have welcomed Dr. Deborah Gilman in the past to help us understand the IEE process in the perspective of a licensed psychologist. Dr. Gilman is located in the Fox Chapel area.


A parent shared that her family has hired Dr. Margret Kay for an IEE and will share their experience in the future.


Quick One Liners to Remember

- feel free to request the district Director of Special Education Services be present at your 504 or IEP meeting

- get an advocate (visit pealcenter.org or achieva.info for more information on advocates in the area)

- remember, you can have anyone you like with you at the meeting, an advocate, a family member, a friend, a lawyer, etc.

- buckle up and be ready to push as needed, don't give up on what you believe is best for your child

- give your child the outside support they need and provide that data to the other team members

- remember, YOU are just as much a team member as any school staff member

- if your child takes medication, do not let the school based team members say medication is the answer and no plan is needed

- remember, just because a child reaches a goal doesn't mean they've "graduated" out of their IEP, the goal should now move forward in the student's learning, as the student grows so does the goal

- use the school's verbiage as much as possible / speak their language

- research how goals are written to help facilitate what you are looking for


Nancy E. Potter

We again mentioned education civil rights attorney Nancy Potter who joined our meeting in October 2019 and in April 2020. Nancy can be reached at:

Nancy E. Potter

McAndrews Law Offices

600 Law & Finance Building

429 4th Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

T: 412.313.5510

npotter@mcandrewslaw.com


PealCenter.org (fantastic resources online and over the phone | you have questions, they have answers)


Final Words

As we ended our meeting one voice spoke for many:

"Not one of these kids is the first to have this experience and it is not the district's first experience."

Next Meeting: April 28, 2021 9:30 a.m. Virtual Meeting using Zoom. Currently scheduled as Open Forum.

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SPECIAL NOTE

All meetings will be held virtually until further notice.

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