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Don't miss this opportunity

Several years ago, some members of the PSEA Special Education Board floated the idea of inviting speakers to present on professional issues for PSEA members who work with students with special needs. The event went over so well that the PSEA Special Education Conference was born.

Now, it's your turn to network with other members who do what you do. Join us for PSEA's 2017 Special Education Conference March 3-4, 2017, at the Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Central PA. All PSEA members are welcome to attend this professional development opportunity. The registration fee is $30, which covers the meeting, networking, conference sessions, Act 48 hours, and lunch.

The conference kicks off on a Friday evening with an opportunity to meet the PSEA Special Education Board and see what these dedicated members do. Following this meeting, there is a networking social with food and beverages where you can get to know other conference attendees. Saturday will feature a full agenda of conference sessions and electives throughout the day.

Three Act 48 hours are available for Friday evening events, and at least four hours for Saturday's sessions. Paraprofessionals may receive a certificate that they can share with their employer. (PSEA recommends that paraprofessionals get preapproval from their employer to guarantee that the professional development hours will count toward Chapter 14 requirements.)

The conference takes place at the Omni Bedford Springs. Nestled in the mountains, this hotel, once a resort for the well-to-do, has not lost its old-world charm. Find the names of former presidents and cabinet officials in the hotel's registry located in the main lobby across from the fireplace and grand piano. In the evening, the outdoor fire pit may be lit, and you can borrow a wool blanket to enjoy the evening sky. On Saturday, enjoy a wonderful buffet as part of the conference package.

You will also be able to bid on items in two silent auctions, one benefiting a new scholarship fund and the other PACE. We have been fundraising for the scholarship fund, and it looks like we will have enough money to start to award a book scholarship in the 2017-18 school year. Stay tuned for more details. You are welcome to donate items for both auctions. Just let us know in advance the title for your donation, approximate value, which silent auction you would like the monies to go to (scholarship or PACE), and whom we should credit for the donation. Send it all to

Audio recording IEP meetings

PSEA members sometimes ask whether parents have the right to audio record IEP meetings. This issue may arise for a variety of reasons. For example, parents may want to be able to review what happened at the meeting because they are not proficient in English or they may be considering filing for due process and want to use the audio recording to prove part of their case.

Because it is unusual for parents to ask for permission to record a meeting, the request tends to catch other IEP team members off guard. The following is a discussion of the rights of parents to audio record IEP meetings and advice about how team members should handle such a request.

States are free to require, prohibit, limit, or otherwise regulate the use of audio or video recording devices at IEP meetings provided they make exceptions to ensure the parent's participation. While Pennsylvania has not addressed this issue in statute or regulation, the state's Special Education Appeals Panel has concluded that in certain cases parents may have the right to audio record IEP team meetings.

A school district, and not individual members of the IEP team, has the authority to deny a parent's request to audio record an IEP meeting, and officials may do so for a variety of reasons. For example, the Pennsylvania Special Education Appeals Panel suggested in a 1996 case that a district may deny the request if the parent's purpose in recording is to obtain support for a legal action.

If a parent requests permission to audio record an IEP meeting, PSEA suggests that members take the following steps:

  • When a school district agrees to allow parents to audio record a meeting, the local association should contact its UniServ representative who can request a written commitment from the district that the recording will not be used to evaluate teachers and is being made solely for the use of the parents as a record of the discussions and decisions regarding their child's educational program and placement.
  • In communicating about this issue with the local association and UniServ representative, educators should refrain from disclosing personally identifiable information about the student.
  • If the parent requests permission to audio record for the first time at the meeting and school district officials agree to allow it, educators may request that the district reschedule the IEP meeting to give them time to consult with their UniServ representative and, when necessary, region attorney. If the district denies this request, members should participate in the meeting to avoid a charge of insubordination and consult with the UniServ representative after the meeting if they have concerns.

Pennsylvania struggles to fill special education positions

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has submitted paperwork to the U.S. Department of Education for relief due to the lack of certified teachers in specific fields. The intent is to get federal permission to forgive student loans ? partial or whole ? for professionals in the areas of special education, math, science, and English/language arts.

Pennsylvania has seen a 59 percent drop in the number of college graduates obtaining teaching certifications in the past three years. The forecast is a continued downward trend without interventions from the state.

The Department of Education sees an opportunity to adjust certification requirements and expand the number of certificates with the authorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). PSEA is providing the department with recommendations on this.

It would be helpful if school counselors, college advisors, and educators would encourage students studying special education to consider opportunities in middle and high school. There is a lopsided number of college students seeking elementary and special education certificates, while vacancies go unfilled at the middle and high school levels.

Filling speech therapist positions continues to be an area of need, but this is because there are only so many slots available each year in the higher education system to accept candidates. The other reason is that hospitals compete with education for speech therapist graduates. Research done in the past showed that districts at greater distances from colleges and universities had a harder time filling positions and had to make a greater effort to fill speech positions.

PA Bureau of Special Education head retiring

Pat Hozella, chief of the PA Bureau of Special Education, has announced her retirement.

Pat has been a tireless advocate for special education both at the state and national level. Previously, she served as the assistant bureau chief. She retired from that position but was called out of retirement to serve as bureau chief.

A successor has not yet been named. Lynn Dell is currently the assistant bureau chief.

Federal government's most recent focus

The federal government is having states take a much harder look at their discipline and suspension policies and data for minority students with special needs. Nationally, the data indicate there is a much higher number of minority students with disabilities being restrained, secluded, and suspended both in Early Intervention and school age programs.

Understanding the procedural safeguards notice

A local education agency (LEA) may only unilaterally change the placement of a student with special education needs to an interim alternative setting when the student has brought a weapon to school, is involved with illegal drugs, or causes serious bodily injury (death or dismemberment, for example). Such a unilateral change may last for 45 school days.

When school officials decide to change a student's placement under these circumstances, officials must still conduct a manifestation determination and provide parents with the procedural safeguards notice. Even if the team determines the student's actions were a manifestation of his/her disability, the student still remains in the interim alternative setting for 45 school days.

While parents have the right to challenge the nature of the interim alternative setting, the student must remain in the placement until the earlier of 45 school days or the date upon which the parent obtains an order requiring that the district return the student to his/her prior placement.

How special education requirements apply to voucher programs

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, or COPAA, has requested that the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, or OSEP, provide guidance about how special education requirements apply to voucher programs.

In 2001, OSEP responded to questions COPAA raised about Florida's voucher program by suggesting that students enrolled in such programs are treated like any other student who is parentally placed in a private school and, thus, loses protection under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In its recent correspondence to OSEP, COPAA argues that students with special education needs who attend voucher schools should be entitled to special education protections under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act because voucher schools are the recipients of public funds and are a part of a program provided by state and local recipients of such funds.

We are watching this issue closely as we enter a new era of public education with the nomination of a U.S. Secretary of Education who is a proponent of charter schools and vouchers.

Legal update: N.M. by C.F. v. Wyoming Valley West School District (2016)

A U.S. District Court recently refused to dismiss a case filed against the Wyoming Valley West School District in which parents are seeking monetary damages due to the district's failure to provide their child with educational services while he was placed in a psychiatric facility located within district boundaries.

The case involves a Greater Nanticoke Area School District student who was placed in a psychiatric hospital housed within the Wyoming Valley West School District's boundaries. State law establishes that districts are responsible for the education of students who are placed in facilities (e.g., prisons or psychiatric hospitals) within the district, even in cases in which the student's placement is temporary. The student in this case was placed at the psychiatric hospital for 70 days, but the district allegedly failed to provide him with educational services during this period.

The court ruled that the district's alleged failure to provide the student with educational services could constitute deliberate indifference actionable under Section 504 if the parents are able to prove that the district had actual knowledge of the student's presence in the facility and that the district failed to provide services.

This case illustrates that districts may be responsible for the education of students placed in facilities located within district boundaries even if students are residents of other districts. Under these circumstances, the host district may provide the services itself, or it can contract with the intermediate unit to provide such services. The host district can then bill the district of residence for the services supplied or funded during the student's stay.

In many cases, services provided by a host district are different than the services provided by the district of residence due to restrictions imposed in a prison setting or to the therapy schedules in a psychiatric facility.

PSEA offers continuing professional development opportunities

PSEA is dedicated to assisting its members in all aspects of their careers, including their standard of living, their work environment, and their professional growth and development. PSEA's Professional Learning Exchange presents multiple opportunities for members to seek their personal best in their work. To learn more, view PSEA's recently updated Continuing Education Course Offerings.

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