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September 27, 2023 Meeting Minutes - Graduation Requirements, DMDD, & SDIs

PALS Meeting Minutes

September 27, 2023 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.

Mishap with PALS listing on FCASD calendar.

It has come to our attention that there are multiple and in some cases incorrect meeting dates listed for PALS in the Fox Chapel School District online calendar. FCASD originally thought this issue was remedied before final publication in August. Although the issue appeared to be completely corrected, unfortunately it was not. FCASD has worked hard to come up with a solution and have done everything internally they can to make the correction. At this point, it is out of everyone's hands with a solution not forthcoming. Please refer to our posted meeting flyer for the 2023-2024 school year. You can find this at the bottom of our Calendar Page, the bottom of all Meeting Minutes, and within every Newsletter. We appreciate your assistance in sharing this information with others.

FCASD Board Meets on Graduation Requirements

In recent months we have held several conversations about graduation requirements for all students in general and those of Fox Chapel Area School District in depth. The FCASD Board has scheduled a meeting to discuss graduation requirements. The website announcement reads, "A Committee of the Whole meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, November 6, 2023, in the LGI room at Fox Chapel Area High School, 611 Field Club Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15238, to discuss graduation requirements." We have no further information about the meeting at this time.

We do know that 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. We also know some school district's in the state have filed suit indicating this change was not done following the law, asking that the extension be done correctly. *For more information on this change we recommend attend an information meeting held by The PEAL Center on September 28th at 8pm. Registration is required.

Although we are unsure, the hope is that this meeting is meant to focus on the concerns of many parents related to the district's requirement that all students pass the state-required exams. From our April Meeting Minutes:

"Students in Pennsylvania must take the Keystone Exams at least one time per subject area for federal accountability. It is what happens if a student does not meet proficiency where FCASD stands out. PA school districts are not awarding graduation credit for passing Keystone Exams. All PA high school graduates must meet proficiency standards and there are multiple avenues to attain that achievement. The majority of students will score proficient or above within two attempts at the Keystone Exam but additional pathways exist to achieve proficiency. Students who have 504 designation, but no IEP could face hurdles in FCASD in trying to achieve the Fox Chapel specific requirements on top of the commonwealth requirements.

A search was done on the top ten high schools in Allegheny County and Pennsylvania; 20 schools total. Of these, Fox Chapel Area School district is the only one that imbeds the passing of all required Keystone Exams as a graduation credit. To be clear, students are required to earn a total of 27 credits to graduate in FCASD and 1 of those credits is issued at the passing of all required Keystone Exams."

Please review the Meeting Minutes from February and April 2023 for addition information on this topic.

A String of References Within Our Conversation

We discussed a list of diagnosis's, therapies, resources, and supports that can be helpful to a wide variety of families. Below is a list of those topics along with brief descriptions:

DMDD (Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder) - "is a mental health condition that causes chronic, intense irritability and frequent anger outbursts in children. While it’s normal for children to go through periods of moodiness, DMDD is more severe and longer lasting. The temper outbursts are greatly out of proportion in intensity and/or duration to the situation. The condition disrupts your child’s daily life. Symptoms need to begin before the age of 10 to meet diagnostic criteria." Cleveland Clinic

ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) - "is a behavioral condition in which your child displays a continuing pattern of uncooperative, defiant and sometimes hostile behavior toward people in authority. While some of its symptoms overlap with ODD, DMDD is considered a more severe condition with a significant mood component." Cleveland Clinic

Dual Diagnosis, ADHD and ASD - "According to the scientific literature, 50 to 70% of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also present with comorbid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).This figure is the product of meta-analyses." ASD and ADHD Comorbidity: What Are We Talking About?

The question was asked whether anyone in the group had experience with Brain Balance. PALS officers met with the director of the East Liberty location (now closed) and toured the facility in 2014. We also read the book Disconnected Kids: The Groundbreaking Brain Balance Program for Children with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Neurological Disorders. Read the November 2014 Meeting Minutes for more information on this visit.

One participant recalled being turned off by the programs claims that it is a "cure", while at the same time a family member shared a positive experience/outcome when participating in the Brain Balance program.

In 2018 NPR's All Things Considered spotlighted Brain Balance in Cutting Edge' Program For Children With Autism And ADHD Rests On Razor-Thin Evidence.

Brain Balance - "is a personalized, non-medical program offered in-center or at-home. The program is designed to strengthen and build brain connectivity so your child can find success in the classroom and unleash their untapped potential. The purpose of the Brain Balance Program is to engage the brain and body in such a way that it improves the way the brain functions, leading to improvements in how we feel and function in our daily lives." Brain Balance located in Wexford

Center for Pediatric Neuropsychology, PLLC (CPN) - "was founded to provide highly specialized and comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations and treatment services for children with complex medical illnesses, neurobehavioral disorders, and psychiatric concerns. CPN offers Neuropsychological & Psychological Evaluations, Child & Family Therapy Services, Autism Spectrum Evaluations, Early Childhood Evaluations, Learning Disability Evaluations, ADHD Services, and Educational Services." Center for Pediatric Neuropsychology, PLLC (CPN) located in Mt. Lebanon

Watson Institute - "provides a number of comprehensive outpatient mental and behavioral health services for children and adolescents up to age 21 to support children and adolescents helping them live well to achieve their full potential, including Diagnostic Testing, Child Therapy Services, and Intensive Behavioral Health Services (IBHS), Special Education Transition Services including In-House Vocational Experiences (IHVE), Community Based Instruction (CBI), Community Based Vocational Experiences (CBVE), and four licensed approved private special education schools and one licensed private academic school located in Western Pennsylvania." Watson Institute multiple locations

CAPS (Child + Adolescent Psychiatric Solutions) - "a specialized practice that offers treatment for children, adolescents, young adults and their families. CAPS believes in delivering compassionate care and having the right team of clinicians focused on making a difference. The practice includes a collaboration of both therapy and medication management. The benefit of coordinated care includes more timely medication appointments because your psychiatrist and therapist are working hand in hand. You can take comfort in knowing that the flow of information between therapist and psychiatrist allows for seamless integration. This integration is paramount in developing a successful treatment plan and ultimately a successful outcome. Additionally, we have thoughtfully created a soothing environment for your sessions to take place to foster a more relaxing therapeutic experience. We understand the challenges your family may be faced with and are confident we can help ease those difficulties." Child + Adolescent Psychiatric Solutions) located in Wexford

PH95 - "Medical assistance (hereinafter “MA”) has the broadest coverage of medical and mental health services for individuals under 18 of any insurance plan. Services provided under MA that private insurance often does not cover include behavioral health services, in-home nursing services, in-home personal care services, diapers, nutritional supplements, prescriptions and transportation to medical appointments. Behavioral health services are often referred to as “wraparound” services and included a Therapeutic Support Staff (TSS), a Mobile Therapist (MT) and a Behavior Specialist Consultant (BSC) who all work together to provide behavior support to children at home and at school. MA also covers various types of therapy such as occupational, physical, and speech and language. Often private insurance companies place a cap on these services whereas MA does not. MA can be a child’s only insurance or it can be secondary. Where it is secondary, MA will cover services not covered by insurance, including co-pays, and can cover the therapies in addition to those covered by insurance.

A common misconception about MA is that income of the parents is considered; however, income of the parents is irrelevant to eligibility. Why? Because of Category PH 95, which is considered a “loophole” and allows qualified individuals to obtain MA without consideration of the parents’ income. Generally speaking, in order to qualify under the loophole, the student must have a disability or condition that limits his or her ability to perform basic functions including physical, neurological, sensory, cognitive, and psychological functioning." summary provided by McAndrews Law Firm

The Pennsylvania Health Law Project provides an incredible pamphlet giving readers step-by-step directions and an 800 number to call for further assistance. PHLP has a small staff and asks for your understanding when calling. Those leaving a message will receive a call back in 2–3 days.

In 2017 we attend a one day training on MA hosted by Pennsylvania Health Law Project and the PEAL Center. You can find our notes in the May 2017 Meeting Minutes.

What to do when teachers don't implement SDIs

It is a frustrating reality for many, especially as students enter middle and high school; general education teachers not following a student's SDIs within their IEP. SDIs (Specially Designed Instruction) are the modifications and accommodations provided to assist a student receiving Special Education services. The IEP Team, which parents are a part of have come up with the SDIs they believe are necessary for a child to receive a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE). Once in the IEP (Individual Education Plan), SDIs are not negotiable, they are to be followed, according to law.

Ultimately it's all about documenting your concerns and talking to people in the chain of command;

1. speak to the general education teacher not following the IEP

2. speak to the special education teacher responsible for your student's IEP

3. Call an IEP Meeting to discuss your concerns

4. Speak to the school administrator, the LEA Representative (Local Educational Agency) who signed as such on your student's IEP

5. Speak to the Special Education Director for your school district

6. Speak to the Superintendent of your school district

7. File a complaint and request Mediation

8. File for a Due Process Hearing.

At any point you may be interested in hiring an educational advocate or education attorney.


Next Meeting: October 25, 2023 9:30 a.m. Virtual Meeting using Zoom.

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All meetings are held virtually.


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