Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Four Letter Word in Special Education: "BEST"

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

It does not cross the minds of most parents that certain language related to special education is somehow "bad," or that using a single word in the quest for services could cause a parent to fail.  However, there is one word which ranks in my book as the number one most hideous, most awful word when it comes to special education- BEST (otherwise known as  "B***").  Now, this is counter intuitive, but it is true.

Parents often believe that special education is to provide their child with the "best" education.  Little Johnny ought to be placed where he has the best chance to succeed, in the environment where he will go the furthest, at the school which interests him the most, right? Obviously, he deserves the best, doesn't he?  I hate to break it to you, but the answer is NO.  Johnny is not entitled to the best school environment, best services, or anything "best" at all, at least not when placement is made via the public schools.

How can this be?  We do not understand!  This is because under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the word best does not exist.  The word APPROPRIATE, however, does.  Johnny, as a special education student is ONLY entitled to an APPROPRIATE placement to meet his UNIQUE needs.

I recall cases I have read where the parents' professionals (psychologist, etc.) testified at hearing, and recommended X school with stellar services as these would be "best" for the child involved.  However, despite the truth of these assertions, the parents lost their case.  Why?  They attempted to apply a higher standard and of course, they used the bad word!  Best!  Well, like a child who does something wrong, they were punished for it and LOST their quest for the "best" placement.

Had the experts oriented themselves slightly differently to recommend X school with the APPROPRIATE services to meet the child's needs, they might have won.  I bet the school district attorneys in these cases (where a maximum benefit rather than appropriate benefit was sought) snickered to themselves as they knew the IDEA does not support the BEST OF ANYTHING.  Rather, it merely supports an appropriate placement.  This can come as a shock to parents, and even professionals.

So remember, please, that when you have professionals write letters in support of your requested placement, when you advocate for your son or daughter's placement, never ask for the BEST of anything- ask for what is appropriate - the appropriate placement, the appropriate services, the appropriate accommodations....  These could be exactly the same things, by the way, we just identify them differently.  And, exclude forevermore from your language, at least when it comes to the public schools and special education, the word "best."  It can mean the difference between winning and losing.


Best,
Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/
Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page [http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/]. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If Your Child Is Questioned At School, Don't Allow Them To Provide A Statement Lest They Be Expelled

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Schools may question students to investigate bullying at school, ask about fights a student has seen, or inquire about something the student may have done at school.  However, such a school investigation can end up in a student revealing something that is held against them.  How do we prevent student confessions that later end up getting them suspended and even expelled?  We educate our kids to respectfully decline to make a statement.

The problem is that kids usually feel a sense of obligation to "tell all" to authority figures.  Unfortunately, when they "tell all" to a school official and that "all" involves e.g. potential sexual harassment, threats, fights, disruption, etc., they are not hailed for their honesty, they are kicked out!

Most kids will probably be questioned at some point in their long school careers.  Parents can arm them in advance by instructing them as follows:

1)  If you are ever called into the office, be polite.
2)  If school personnel ask you questions about something you or your friends did, respectfully say: "My parents have told me that I am not allowed to answer questions without them."
3)  Ask that your parents be called.

When a parent thereafter arrives, they can talk to the school personnel without the student in the room.  Then, if it turns out the school is accusing the child of e.g. selling drugs, the parent can refuse the interview.

As an attorney for students, you don't know how many times I have shaken my head when I saw a student's written or verbal confession being used against them.  I have also seen expulsions crumble without a student confession.

Why do the school officials' jobs for them?   If the school wants to expel your kid, don't make their job any easier by handing them a confession.  Make them work for it.


Best,
Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/
Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page [http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/]. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pervasive Anti-Semitism Alleged at Two University of California College Campuses

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

According to the "Institute for Jewish and Community Research" (IJCR) the University of California has gotten hit with a lawsuit and an investigation by the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, at two different campuses, for anti-semitic issues on campus.

A federal lawsuit was filed against the University of California Berkeley (UCB) earlier this month (March 2011) based on incidents involving alleged targeting of students of Jewish ancestry.  In the complaint are outlined an injury to the claimant (a Jewish student) who was struck by a shopping cart while holding a sign up on campus which read "Israel Wants Peace" during a protest.  There is also an alleged pattern of activities listed as supportive of the claim of anti-semitism at UCB.  The basis for the complaint are alleged denial of the students right to free exercise of religion, deliberate indifference to discriminatory activities, and other claims under both federal and state law.

The IJCR also states that the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) is being investigated for potential anti-semitism by the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  A complaint was filed in June of 2009 by a UC Santa Cruz lecturer, based on alleged anti-semitic statements, textbooks, lectures, and inadequate handling of the issues by UCSC.

Targeting or discriminating against any person based on national origin, shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, sex/gender/sexual orientation, race, color, disability, or age is prohibited.


Best,
Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/
Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page [http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/]. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.

Friday, March 11, 2011

An Excused School Absence for Religious Instruction? Maybe! Check Your School District Policies

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Religion and religious instruction in the schools generally does not occur based on the doctrine of separation of Church and State.  But, can a parent provide their OWN religious instruction during school hours for which they receive an EXCUSED absence?  Maybe-- the answer depends on the school district involved.

Per California Education Code section 46014, a school district MAY adopt a policy allowing pupils to be excused from instruction to participate in:

"religious exercises or to receive moral and religious instruction at their respective places of worship or at other suitable place or places away from school property designated by the religious group, church, or denomination"

The code also states that such an absence, if allowed, is not computed as an "absence" for the school.  In other words, the school still gets paid for that child's attendance.  Sounds great!

There are limitations however:

1)  The child would still have to attend the minimum school day required [as this does not say "days" this is a tad confusing], and
2)  The district would have to pass a policy allowing these types of absences, and
3)  The absences are limited to a maximum of four times per month (or as specified in the district policy).

If you would like your child to attend a religious matter during school hours check if your school district has a policy allowing this to be an excused absence.  If they do, you will have to follow the policy in place.  If they do not, you can ask your Board of Education to adopt one!

Best,
Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/
Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page [http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/]. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Simple Steps To Help Handle the Special Education IEP Team

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

When parents first get involved in special education, and even over time, the whole process can seem incredibly intimidating. With a little understanding and preparation, parents can handle their child's special education IEP (Individualized Education Program) team meetings better and can improve their child's education.

INTIMIDATION BY NUMBERS PLUS INVALIDATION OF PARENT INPUT

When parents walk into an IEP meeting for the first time, it can be scary and confusing.  There is an US versus THEM sort of feeling.  Parents are met by a whole group of school and district personnel who far outnumber the parents, and who have various impressive credentials, training, and experience.  On the other hand, they are just... parents.

Parents as "parents" are actually a group which I have found to be lessened and invalidated as far as their input.  In reality parent input is VERY valuable and VERY important.  Yet, parents tend to be treated as the last man on the totem pole when it comes to special education decisions for their child.  This negative viewpoint toward parent opinion tends to be reflected by the "team" at the IEP meeting as the OTHER group (school group) seems to dominate the special education meeting, consulting the parents only for general information on the student. Parents, for good reason, tend to feel that the "team" (less the parent) makes all the decisions.

IGNORANCE OF WHAT IS BEING DISCUSSED

Parents can also be confused by the entire IEP discussion.  Just what are they talking about when they mention "related services?"  What are accommodations?  What does speech therapy cover?  What is a Special Day Class?  Why doesn't he qualify for special education?  What is a 504?  These are all huge questions, but parents should prepare well in advance of any IEP meeting to learn what special education is and what it is all about.

PREPARATION TO ALLEVIATE THE FEAR

Here are some steps you can take to lessen the discomfort:

1)  Request all assessments/reports which will be reviewed IN ADVANCE of the IEP meeting.  Usually, unless a parent requests these be provided pre-meeting, they will not be provided until the IEP meeting.
2)  Review all assessments BEFORE the IEP meeting, and write down any questions, corrections, and/or objections.
3)  Make a list of issues your child is having at school such as: cannot complete work, does not turn in homework, fails all tests, does not write down assignments, cannot read, behavior issues, etc.
4)  Add to this list your requests, such as resource class support in English, handwriting help, weekly emailed list of upcoming assignments, extended time on tests, paraprofessional (aide), etc.
5)  Provide this list in advance of the meeting to the individual who is in charge of the IEP meeting.  Then, you can go over your list at the meeting and see what they say.
6)  Provide notice you will record the meeting at least 24 hours in advance.
7)  Don't go alone.  Both parents should attend, with any family members who may be helpful, and any outside providers (e.g. tutors) you might have to provide information.  You can also bring an attorney if you so desire with advanced notice.
8)  Bring reports from outside sources, if you have them, such as an outside psychological report, eye exam report, etc.
8)  Don't bring the student to the IEP meeting.  Often the "team" wants the child to attend.  Unless they are approaching adulthood, don't have them attend.
10)  Take the IEP document home to read it over at your leisure prior to signing.
11)  Don't forget your POWER to decide.  You have the power to reject anything the IEP says.  You do not have to sign the IEP.  You can accept part, but not all of the IEP.

Hope this helps!



Best,
Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/
Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page [http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/]. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Offenses Where a Recommendation for School Suspension or Expulsion is Discretionary

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

I previously blogged about offenses which do not give California school districts any discretion on whether to recommend and/or actually expel a student.  However, there is a whole laundry list of other school offenses for which a school district is not required to suspend or expel.  In fact, rather than suspending or expelling a student who commits one of the below offenses, a district can implement other punishment which may actually serve the student and student body better.

This is the BIG LIST of discretionary offenses for which a student MAY BE RECOMMENDED FOR EXPULSION and MAY BE EXPELLED in California.  Suspension and expulsion are not mandatory for the below situations:

1)  Caused attempted or threatened to cause physical injury.
2)  Willful force or violence on another except in self-defense.
3)  First offense of possession of less than one ounce of marijuana
4)  Under the influence of a controlled substance (unless they count this as possession which carries a mandatory recommendation).
5) Possessed, used, or sold alcohol.
6)  Offering, arranging or negotiating to sell a controlled substance, alcohol,or  intoxicant and delivering a substitute material, representing it as the item.
7) Damage/attempt to damage property
8)  Stealing (but robbery- e.g. stealing with force carries a mandatory recommendation)
9)  Tobacco/nicotine product possession
10)  Obscene act (so long as not sexual assault/battery) or habitual profanity/vulgarity.
11)  Possession, negotiation or sales of drug paraphernalia
12)  Disruption or willful defiance (this is the "catch all" offense)
13)  Knowing receipt of stolen property.
14)  Possession of imitation firearm.
15)  Harassment, threats or intimidation against student witness to prevent testimony or retaliate
16)  Attempt to engage in or engaging in hazing
17)  Bullying including by an electronic act directed specifically toward a pupil or school personnel.
18)  Sexual harassment
19)  Caused or attempted to cause hate violence (grades 4-12)
21)  Intentional harassment, threats or intimidation (grades 4-12)
22)  Terroristic threats (e.g. threats to commit a crime)

This is an abbreviated version of California Education Code sections starting at section 48900.

With these offenses, it is completely up to the school or district's DISCRETION whether to proceed with suspension OR expulsion or... nothing.  However, just because they don't carry mandated expulsion recommendations in the Education Code does not mean school districts do not put kids up for expulsion for any or all of the above.  They do, and they often put them up under more than one category.



Best,
Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/
Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page [http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/]. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.