"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

~ Niccolo Machiavelli, historian and writer

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Light Dawns on Marblehead

As a follow-up to that July post concerning families in Indiana who were forced to legally admit neglect in order to obtain the mental health services their children required, I am pleased to report that state officials have unveiled a plan to provide such services for mentally ill or developmentally disabled children without requiring parents to plead guilty to neglect.
"This is a small, but important and complex population that presents a big struggle for many families. For decades, the only way these children have been able to get care is by entering the court system as a juvenile delinquent or to have their parents claim neglect so the child can become a ward of the state. And everyone agrees -- from state agencies, to prosecutors, to judges, to probation officers, to mental health experts, to families -- that is not the way to help these kids." -- DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan
Which, I suppose it was going to take strong pressure from somewhere to change the situation given that the state's Department of Child Services had publicly stated that the agency would not change any of its policies (those being the policies requiring parents to go through such a heart-breaking charade) even after a Court of Appeals' decision stating that a parent in such a situation should be "applaud[ed]", not "condemn[ed] ... through coercive action."

It would appear that in Indiana, at least in regard to this situation, light has finally dawned on marblehead. We can only pray (or demand) that it will also dawn elsewhere.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Paralympic Athletes Writing Next Chapter in Human Story

Reading the latest issue of the IWK's Village Voice this morning, I was struck by this piece by Warren Reed, a human rights activist in Halifax.

All 20 of the fastest times in the 2012 Boston Marathon belong to wheelchair racers. In fact, Canadian wheeler Joshua Cassidy (1:18:25) had time for a nap while waiting for Kenyan runner Wesley Korir (2:12:40) to finish. A luxurious 54 min-utes, to be exact. Gravity? The course does drop 425 feet in 26 miles — a barely noticeable three-tenths of one per cent grade — but that benefits runners and wheelers alike.

Meanwhile, the course has some daunting uphill stretches, and dragging an extra 15 pounds of wheelchair up Heartbreak Hill surely offsets any advantage from turning potential energy kinetic.

But this is apples and oranges, angels and pins. One shouldn’t be confused by the artificiality of divisions into thinking there is a single winner of the Boston Marathon, and then some women and then some wheelchairs. They’re all committed athletes, running the same race differently.

People with disabilities have a special perspective on difference — we are, in many ways, defined by it. Many of us embrace our differences as extraordinary gifts.

Some would say Stephen Hawking won a Nobel Prize in spite of his condition. People with more imagination might wonder if it’s because of his condition. Conventional thinkers see him as suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. (Lou, by the way, was not a bad ball player.) I’d say Stephen Hawking is a pretty spectacular physicist and that there’s a decent chance his achieve¬ment is connected to his physical characteristics. At the very least, his circumstance provides an unusual perspective on the universe.

You can read the rest of the piece by clicking on the Weekly Update: September 7, 2012 link on this page. I would suggest that you do.

Monday, September 10, 2012

One-Stop Shopping

Back to school. Ugh.
Back to school shopping. Again. Ugh.

Although, personally, I would take the shopping any day over actually having to send my kids back and start yet another year (this will be year 15 for my oldest) of "advocacy".

But do not despair. Nice person that I am, I have put together a list of ammunition documents you really should be familiar with as we start another school year.

I've tried to bring some order to the chaos by organizing them by topic but ... well, really, you wouldn't want me to take all the fun away and make it too easy, would you? Just think of it as digging through the bins at Frenchy's ... you never know when you will find a great bargain that fits you just right!

Special Ed in General
Special Education Policy Manual aka "The Bible" (2008)  -That's right, this document should be your Bible for just about any issue you might face with your school, your Board or the Department.

Life Skills: Supporting Student Success (2009) - A little-known document that can be a life-saver when your school tells you that they're very sorry but your child MUST take all these academic courses to get the credits necessary to graduate. It's not their fault; blame the Department.

OR you could just pass over this document, which sets out exactly how "life skill" credits can be and are recognized. Look at that ... a How To Guide for your school!

Increasing Learning Success (2008) - Although written more or less as a how-to guide for reorganizing high school to keep typical students engaged, there are a fair number of ideas discussed that could be very helpful for students with special needs.

Program Planning Process: A Guide for Parents (2006) - This document basically pulls out (and slightly expands upon) the portion of the Special Education Policy Manual (see above) dealing with the program planning process.

"Just how do I go about getting my child an IPP?", you ask. Look no further...

Supporting Student Success: Resource Programming and Services (2006) - Written to provide direction to school boards on the role of resource teachers and their expected competencies and to assist in the development of related policy and procedures, it is also intended to serve as a framework for professional development for resource teachers, classroom teacher and school administrators regarding the resource role in the program planning process. 

In other words, find out just how Resource is suppose to work.

Respect for Diversity: A Planning Resource (2007) - This resource came out of the Minister's Response to Addressing Bullying in Nova Scotian Schools: A Student's Perspective in 2003. (The more things change ... no?)  It's intended to be a resource for students to use to support the advancement and promotion of diversity ... meaning it's to be used a resource to assist in the planning and delivery of a school-wide Respect for Diversity Day. Never heard of such a thing? Don't feel bad ... neither have I!

It just might just be worth checking out, however. Challenge your school and see if they're up to holding their very own (and chances are, very first) Respect for Diversity Day.

Fact Sheets (Pretty much speak for themselves)
Adaptations - Strategies and Resources

Assistive Technology - Access to Learning

Inclusion - Supporting All Students (Fact Sheet)

Program Planning - A Team Approach (Fact Sheet)

Transition
Transition Planning for Students with Special Needs: The Early Years Through to Adult Life (2005) - Did you know that your child might well be entitled to an Individualized Transition Plan? But wait, what the heck is a Transition Plan? And when is this so-called "transition planning" suppose to occur?

SLP and School Psychologist Guidelines (Some hidden goodies)
Speech-Language Pathology Guidelines

School Psychology Guidelines

Student Records
Student Records Policy

Discipline
Provincial Code of Conduct and School Code of Conduct Guidelines (2008)
This. Document. Is. Very. Important.

The regulations made under the Education Act require the Minister to create a Provincial Discipline Policy (aka the Provincial Code of Conduct). All school boards are mandated to create Codes of Conduct (discipline policies) based on the Minister's Policy and each individual school is obligated to create its own School Code of Conduct. Neither a Board's nor a school's Code of Conduct can contradict the Minister's Policy.

Now listen carefully - the Provincial Discipline Policy was changed in a very significant way in 2008. Prior to that time, no provision was made to take into account a student's stage of development and special needs when meting out discipline. In fact, there was a chart which very clearly in black and white laid out specific behaviour and the consequences of such behaviour - if you do this, you will be suspended; if you do this, the police will be called in; etc.

Thankfully, that is no longer the case - the Provincial Policy clearly states that consequences for misbehaviour must be "appropriate to a student's stage of development and in consideration of the student's special needs". It is further stated that "consequences must make sense to a student as much as possible." The School Code of Conduct policy also supports the development and implementation of a comprehensive school-wide PEBS (positive effective behaviour supports) program. Behaviour is divided into "disruptive" and "severely disruptive" and a range of possible consequences are provided for various behaviours within these categories.

All of the above are very significant changes. Very significant changes that, one would presume, were brought about, at least in part, by a Charter challenge against the Province's discipline policy many years ago.

The case never made it to court and the parents involved could be forgiven for thinking it had all been for naught and no progress had been made. Or, at least, they no doubt thought that until they saw that some of the very changes they were requesting have been incorporated in the Province's Discipline Policy. We haven't made it as far as some other provinces (in particular, Ontario, includes the need to recognize a student's special needs when it comes to discipline within the regulations made under their Education Act) but we have made progress.

So the next time an administrator tells you that they have no other choice, their hands are tied, they have to suspend your child just as they would any other student who had (fill in the blank) .. you might want request both your Board's and the school's Code of Conduct and compare them to this document.

Time-Out Guidelines (2010) - Check out that date ... anyone care to hazard a guess as to the why behind these Guidelines? As so very often happens, change only seems to occur when parents GET LOUD. 

** By the way, did you notice that the practice of using time out is to be decided through the Program Planning Process as set out in Policy 2.2 of the Special Education Policy Manual? Which, to my way of thinking, requires prior parental consent (or at least knowledge) of its intended use.

Guidelines for the Use of Student Restraint (2011) - Need to know what the school can and can't do to restrain your child? Need to gently remind them that physical restraint is to be considered a last resort and only to be used when someone's safety is at risk?

IPP Appeals
School Board and Ministerial Appeal Guide (2000) - Sets out the procedure to be followed when a parent appeals an IPP; first at the school board level and then at the Department level. And, remember this, although you may not have a very good chance of success at the Board level (cough, cough), your chances improve significantly should you convince the Minister to grant you a provincial appeal.

Tuition Support
Tuition Support Program - If your child has a diagnosed Learning Disability, ADHD or autism* and you  are not familiar with the TSP, then you need to be. And take heart, the program has become a little looser than it previously was.

* Unfortunately you are more likely to find a school able to accommodate your child if they have a LD or ADHD, then if they have autism.

Guidelines Regarding Entering Into Agreements, including Tuition Agreements, for the Provision of Services and Benefits * (2011) -  These are the Guidelines that are to govern when the Program Planning Team has exhausted all options and agrees that the public school system cannot meet a student's needs. In such a case, a school board can agree to cover the total cost of the student's tuition at a private school. Just don't expect this to happen too often.
* Not to be confused with the Tuition Support Program, above

Transportation
Handbook for the Transportation of Students with Special Needs (2011)

Medical Care
Diabetes - Guidelines for Supporting Students with Type 1 Diabetes (2010)

Diabetes - Standards of Care for Students with Type 1 Diabetes in School (2008)

DNAR - Guidelines for Supporting Students in School Who Have a Do Not Attempt Resuscitation Order (2012)

Teacher Assistants (aka EAs, TAs, EPAs)
Guidelines for Teacher Assistants (2009) - Need to know the roles and responsibilities of teacher assistants? What are their expected qualifications and competencies? Unfortunately, the document doesn't quite answer many parents' burning question ... "How the heck do I get one for my child?"

Miscellaneous
Schools Plus - One of the Department's newer initiatives and worth taking a look-see at.

You can find a series of special reports here, including the Autism Management Advisory Team (AMAT) Report - Lifespan Needs for Persons with ASD.

And although not technically from the Department of Education, you might find this document useful if you find yourself trying to explain to the school why your child with autism requires a service dog at school.


One (or two) last word(s) ... it took a while to convince me, but after meeting twice with the Minister of Education last year, I am at last convinced that the Department, itself, actually has some pretty good policy documents; as just one example, I was particularly pleased to be pointed to the Life Skills document above after having been repeatedly told my child's high school that she had to sit through (what to her are) totally useless academic courses so that she could get a (to her) totally useless piece of paper (diploma). Can't do life skills as credits, huh?

Knowledge IS power. So now our challenge, as parents, is to actually find and use those documents in our dealings with our children's schools and school boards. I just did some of the leg work for you ... now it's your turn!