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PSEA's Special Education Conference is around the corner

EA members can earn up to seven hours of Act 48 credits, and ESP members can earn up to seven hours in the form of a certificate. You will have an opportunity to meet your region Special Education Board member and hear from a great lineup of conference speakers and presenters.

The price is right at $30 which covers the cost of the conference and a full Italian lunch buffet on Saturday. The Omni Bedford Springs hotel is only a couple of miles off the PA Turnpike in Central Pennsylvania ? three hours from the New Jersey line in the East and less than that from the Pittsburgh region.

Every year, we have a free resource table where educators can peruse what others have provided. Take what you need back to your classroom or school team. Anyone coming to the conference can bring handouts that they would like to share with attendees.

There will be ample opportunities to network with educators from across the state during conference registration, at the after-conference networking event on Friday evening, and during lunch on Saturday.

Special Education Conference - 2017

We are excited to present two of our own members who will share their expertise at the conference. We had to bring back Bill Ziegler who got rave reviews last year ? and complaints that there was not enough time with him to absorb his wealth of information on assistive technology.

New this year will be Kim Freese who will delve into vocabulary development for high school students. And one of PSEA?s own staff members and former special education teacher, Jeff Grinaway, will offer a training on building safe and supportive classroom environments. Jeff is known for engaging his audience so have that second cup of coffee before entering his session.

The engagement of parents is key to the work we do, so we reached out to Robyn Oplinger of Disabilities Rights Pennsylvania and asked her to discuss parent engagement from the perspective of an advocate. She will talk about how IEP teams can work better together, and what actions inhibit and increase collaboration.

David Bateman, recommended by one of our Special Education Board members, will tackle the topic of working with general education teachers at a time when class sizes have gotten larger and special education teachers are stretched in so many different directions every class period.

In addition to this stellar list of presenters, we will get an update from the PA Bureau of Special Education, a legal update from PSEA staff attorney Leslie Collins, and a status report on special education from Bernie Miller, Special Education Board staff liaison.

We hope we whet your appetite and look forward to seeing you at the conference next month.

Donations sought for silent auctions

For those who have signed up for the Special Education Conference, please consider helping us raise money by donating items to one or both of our two silent auctions. One will benefit a soon-to-be-announced scholarship fund, and the second will benefit PSEA-PACE.

We are accepting ?baskets? of goodies. If you'd like to contribute, email me at We will need to know at least a week before the conference the donor?s name, the theme of and major items in the basket, the approximate value of the basket, and which cause you want the proceeds to go to (PACE or the scholarship fund). Drop off the donation at the conference registration table, and we will handle the rest.

The silent auction items will be on display on both Friday and Saturday for any conference-goers looking to take home some mementos. After lunch on Saturday, the winners will be announced. Payments for items won in the PACE Silent Auction can be made with credit card, cash, or check. Payment for items won in the Scholarship Fund Silent Auction can be made with cash or check.

Some of the items already donated include a Maine lobster-themed basket, a bee-themed basket, a canning preserve-themed basket, and a traditional wine basket.

What to do when students want to go to the big leagues

Transition-age students (ages 14 to 21) can have some very interesting ideas about their future employment prospects ? especially those who have an interest in sports. Educators can face challenges when students indicate that they want to be professional athletes after graduation. In certain situations, follow-up questions may reveal that the student is not involved in that team sport, not taking lessons, and does not even own the proper equipment.

When students or parents want to pursue an unrealistic transition goal, it is important that educators maintain open lines of communication with them. For instance, rather than arguing that the student has little chance of making it to the pros, educators could provide information on the qualifications required for professional athletes. According to NCAA 2015 information, 60 percent of Division 1 men playing ice hockey wanted to play professional hockey, but only 1 percent of them made it to the pros. Similarly, 45 percent of Division 1 women basketball players eyed professional careers, but less than 1 percent achieved that goal. The odds are even tougher for men?s basketball, with 75 percent of Division 1 players wanting to go pro and only a little more than 1 percent of them making the cut.

To further assist parents and students in understanding the difficulties they may face if the IEP team adopts unrealistic transition goals, educators can encourage the student to research the process for entry in their selected profession, ask probing questions during the IEP process to reveal what is motivating the student (and in some cases, the parent), and ask questions over time to see whether the student's goals change.

Educators can also use the transition process during IEP meetings to encourage families to introduce their sports-loving children to other activities. Parents can enroll their children in community programs, or in lessons. In addition, the IEP team can discuss and address opportunities for students to get involved in school, community, and extracurricular activities that are appropriate for the student based on interests and abilities.

The transition process for students with special education needs is a collaborative one. It is important that educators are open to listening to parents and students throughout this process and are prepared to provide information and suggestions that will help them focus on realistic goals.

The secret to employment success?

At an event a couple of years ago, I surveyed several Eastern Pennsylvania job coaches representing school districts, intermediate units, and approved private schools.

The coaches were asked what it took to successfully get a student hired and what were the most common reasons a student was fired. These job coaches worked with students who, on their own, would have experienced more challenges finding and holding a job but, with job coaching, have transitioned into the community more successfully.

Getting hired and keeping a job

Twenty-four of the 57 respondents identified appropriate social skills as the most important factor in being hired. Students who were pleasant and respectful, made eye contact, and acknowledged when they were being spoken to or given directions received higher marks from their employers. The job coaches said that most jobs can be taught, but it takes much longer to teach students social skills if they don?t already have them.

Having a job coach was the second most important factor. This might sound self-congratulatory coming from a group of job coaches, but the coaches emphasized their importance is attributable to their work in helping students understand the subtleties of the job. Where do employees go when it is break time? How can a student who is unable to read a clock know when the lunch break ends? Which employees are more supportive and can be trusted to provide the student with answers to their questions? The boss does not have the time to go over the job multiple times and problem-solve every little situation that comes up, but the job coach can work with the student to make the transition into a new position run smoothly.

According to the job coach survey, a student's good work skills was the third most important factor in the successful employment of students with disabilities. This does not mean that the student needs to know the job before arriving, but rather that the students who have qualities such as stamina, work ethic, and motivation are more likely to succeed.

A student's willingness to work in an entry-level position was the fourth most important factor in the successful employment of students with disabilities. In some cases, the job coaches said parents have persuaded their children that they are too good for entry-level work or that working in certain employment fields was beneath them. Successful students were willing to take less desirable jobs to earn money or as a stepping stone to better jobs with the company.

The job coaches also noted the importance of consistent attendance and good hygiene ? two responses that are of no surprise to educators who drill these qualities into students from an early age.

Finally, the job coaches said it was helpful to have a referral from a staff person who observed that a student was ready for work. Students who had such a referral were more likely to be placed in competitive employment.

Why students lose jobs

Forty-three of the 57 job coach respondents identified poor attendance as a risk factor for job loss. Poor attendance came in three categories: The student missed too many days of work; the student took off on weekends and holidays when scheduled to work; and the student forgot to get their work schedule and missed days of work without calling in an absence.

The job coaches said students with disabilities are at risk for losing their jobs when they fail to call the employer when they are going to be absent. Do you notice a pattern? Nothing upsets an employer more than a worker who misses scheduled work shifts without notifying the employer.

A student who socializes too much on the job is also at risk for being fired, according to the job coaches. Some students can only do one thing at a time, and if they are talking to co-workers, they aren't getting their work done. Balancing work with social interaction can be challenging for students with disabilities because for some, work is one of their few social outlets, and they enjoy catching up with their fellow employees at the expense of getting their work done.

The job coaches also indicated that students who lack motivation and students with poor attitudes are at risk of being discharged.

The good news is that the job coaches did not put stealing, a disrespectful attitude, or lack of qualifications high on their list of risk factors.

I always look at data and try to figure out what can be learned or what message the data is conveying. You might come away with other insights, but my conclusion is that many of the issues identified by the job coaches can be dealt with in both the school setting and in the community-based work setting. We can start at an early age working on many of these skills and intensify our focus on developing strong employment skills as the student reaches working age.

Legal Update: Letter to Cohen

The U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) recently published an opinion letter explaining that a school district or parents may introduce information discussed or a draft document developed during a resolution meeting as evidence in a due process hearing unless the parties have entered into a confidentiality agreement that prohibits them from doing so.

The purpose of the resolution meeting is to achieve a prompt and early resolution of a parent's due process complaint to avoid the need for a more costly, adversarial, and time-consuming due process hearing and the potential for civil litigation. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), within 15 days of receiving notice of the parent's due process complaint, and prior to the initiation of an impartial due process hearing, the LEA must convene a meeting with the parent and the relevant members of the IEP Team who have specific knowledge of the facts identified in the due process complaint. Unlike its statutory and regulatory provisions which apply to mediation, the IDEA does not mandate that discussions in resolution meetings be kept confidential and cannot be introduced in a subsequent due process hearing or civil proceeding.

OSEP?s interpretation may cause the parties to a resolution meeting to be less candid in their discussion of the issues because, unless they enter into a confidentiality agreement, their efforts to settle a dispute during a resolution meeting may be used against them in a due process hearing.

400 N. 3rd Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101

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