Feinstein Education Law Group
Representing parents and students throughout Connecticut.
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February 2016 Archives

How Did They Know That? Take Care Not to Over-Share at School.

 Editor's Note:  Susan Morton is an educational advocate in our office with a clinical social work background and experience with mental health and developmental disabilities.  Please read on for her inaugural post on our new blog, on the topic of using caution in discussing confidential student or family information.  -- M. School districts frequently surprise me with the depth and scope of the knowledge they have about parents. A typical first conversation I have had with teachers or school administrators goes something like this: "Are you aware of the fact that the parents are on the verge of divorce, the mother takes psychotropic medication, and they are nearing foreclosure on their mortgage? So I am concerned that the family may be moving out of this town." Quite remarkable. Despite being far beyond the range of information that should ever be within the ambit of a social developmental study, this type of information comes to me on a regular basis as a parent advocate. So I am left to wonder how this information comes to the attention of the school district, and more specifically to the special education director. One obvious source is through the case study, specifically the social developmental study (SDS), where the "friendly social worker" or case manager has "just a few questions for you." One local school principal told me point blank that the student's academic struggles were a result of the mother being "nuts," as clearly indicated in the interview notes stating that she had suffered from mental illness since childhood. The more pernicious type of information-gathering comes from "educational advocacy redlining." That is, parents in certain parts of town where the land values are known to be lower simply will not have the resources to fight back. This information is known to the school because of taxing and financing, but was never meant to be used in this way. The look of surprise on the sped director's face is a true pleasure for me, when our firm represents a parent from one of these redlined zones. Finally, the most common way that schools gather information is from chatty parents who unfortunately feel too comfortable in emails or conversations with school personnel and reveal all kinds of information. Not to be paranoid, but what you say to your child's teacher, aide, or other school personnel should be considered to be fair game to be passed around to everyone on the team, and in the building and even beyond! To avoid having your own information used against you: • Guard what you say on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. School personnel are tuned into social media, and if you are "parent enemy number one" they will look; • At all times, be very aware of what you tell school personnel, and how you tell it. They may be friendly - or even a friend - but that doesn't mean they're not being pressured to divulge information; • On a SDS, provide the needed information, but don't overshare! It's unnecessary and unwise to make a full and detailed discussion about collateral relatives, or matters that are not clearly germane to your child's IEP; • Emails sent or received by school personnel that discuss you or your child are educational records, so make sure you obtain them via a FERPA request! Zero in on this email traffic to know what is being discussed, and ask questions if anything doesn't add up. Exercise caution in how information is shared with school personnel. Emails that are sent in a moment of haste and anger can destroy what would have been a productive discussion about a legitimate issue. School personnel are tuned into the power of information about parents. Don't be paranoid, but be careful in your communications. Image by EFF via WikiMedia Commons

The Special Education Achievement Gap: A Brief Analysis of the States

 Each year, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to a statistically valid sample of elementary and secondary school students throughout the country.  The NAEP is a paper and pencil test in math, reading, science, writing, and other subjects.  It is administered to 4th, 8th and 12th grade students. From the NAEP results, the Department of Education publishes an annual Nation's Report Card. Since 2009, NCES has separately tabulated results for students with disabilities.  With this data, we can analyze the achievement gap on a state-by-state basis.  Indeed, one of the purposes of special education is to close the achievement gap.  So, by looking at the gap between the performance of all children and the performance of children with disabilities over time, we get some sense of the quality of special education in a state.  Further, by looking at the present achievement gap, we get another sense of the quality of special education in each state. For purposes of this analysis, we combined four scores: 4th grade reading, 8th grade reading, 4th grade math, and 8th grade math.  For 2015, the states ranked as follows:

Looking for FREE special education help in Connecticut? Consider CPAC.

If you are new to the world of special education law it is hard to know where to begin.  The procedures are confusing, the language is alphabet soup, and school districts are not forthcoming about parent's rights and options.  For a parent to meaningfully participate in their child's PPT/IEP meeting, however, it is critical to do your homework and understand both federal law (IDEA) and Connecticut state regulation. The Feinstein Education Law Group provides free consultations to discuss questions and concerns about your child's school program.  Often parents contact us when there is a clear dispute that requires legal representation.  Sometimes, however, a parent is newly overwhelmed with the process and looking for more general support and information.  During these phone calls I often recommend to connect with a local parent group, or to utilize free resources through the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center. CPAC is a statewide nonprofit organization that offers free information, trainings, and support to families of children with any disability or chronic illness from birth to age 26.   CPAC is Connecticut's Parent Training and Information Center (PTI).  Many parents aren't aware that each state has a PTI authorized through IDEA.  PTIs are mandated to provide free trainings and information.   PTIs are also mandated by IDEA to assist parents to

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