Dynamic presenters inspire and inform at PSEA's Special Education Conference

PSEA’s Special Education Conference was a huge success this year, drawing 160 members to Bedford Springs Feb. 2-3 for top-notch professional development opportunities.

Participants had an opportunity to hear an update on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and to share their input with PSEA staff on Pennsylvania’s plan to implement ESSA. Ann Hinkson-Herrmann, the director of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education, offered an informative and inspirational keynote address titled “Special Education Evolution: From Pioneers to Trailblazers.”

Other dynamic presenters were on hand to share information about reading, behavior, communication, augmentive and alternative communication, and legal updates.

We look forward to next year’s conference, which will take place in March 2019.

PA's ESSA plan in full swing

In mid-January, the U.S. Department of Education approved the state’s plan to implement ESSA. Now, the state is moving forward with implementation, and it will have an impact on special education in the commonwealth.

For one, the plan reduces the percentage of students eligible for participation in the alternative assessment to 1 percent. IEP teams who review those students with significant cognitive disabilities will have to consider the most effective way to conduct a summative assessment that will demonstrate growth of skills and knowledge gained throughout the school year. Teams will also need to review the most appropriate accommodations, including the use of additional technology to support the student.

No significant impact yet from U.S. Supreme Court ruling on FAPE

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case called Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, interpreting the scope of the free appropriate public education (FAPE) requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The court determined that, “to meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP [individualized education program] that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” The court also emphasized the requirement that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”

To date, the decision has not had a significant impact. IEP teams should make it a proactive goal to more closely examine the provision of FAPE and to work toward creating a program for each student that provides “meaningful” benefits. This early, hearing officers have not actively demonstrated a distinguishable difference through the cases that have been presented, to more clearly define the new standard of FAPE.

PA Board of Education outlines priorities

In January, the Pennsylvania Board of Education outlined its priorities for the upcoming year. They include a focus on career and technical education as well as expanding services to pre-school aged students and expanding opportunities for STEM. One area of concern is the decreasing number of post-secondary students entering the field of education as well as the number of early-career teachers leaving education to pursue other lines of work. Special education was noted as one of the high-need areas, where shortages are already evident.

Concerns about an increase in aggressive and violent behavior

In nearly every PSEA region, members have voiced concerns regarding an increase in the level of aggressive and violent behavior in our public schools. In some cases, teachers, support professionals, and administrators are being injured, sometimes severely, in the act of maintaining a safe environment for learning.

In order to be proactive, please ensure that there is a district-wide plan in place to train and certify individuals in safe crisis management, which relies heavily on de-escalation techniques. Additionally, be sure that there are building-level plans that are known to all, with clear routines and procedures, when intervention is needed. Document everything and hold timely meetings after a restraint has occurred.

You can also visit the PSEA website to view the “Checklist for supporting students with challenging behaviors” as well as “What to do in case of assault.” Both documents offer information to support members.

Unmet mental and behavioral health needs a concern

Unmet mental and behavioral health needs are additional issues that have been mentioned across all PSEA regions, as the Special Education Board shared reports in February.

For school districts, it is essential to work in collaboration with agency providers, such as county Children & Youth and offices of mental health and intellectual disabilities, in order to form partnerships that will better meet the needs of the families served. By examining barriers to service, we can collaborate to address areas where additional supports can be provided, improving situations for our children.

Special Education Advisory Panel focuses on transition opportunities

Recently, the Special Education Advisory Panel Board received information on the provision of additional services available through the state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) as well as waiver programs across the state. The focus remains on Indicator 13 (Transition), which is beneficial to students as they transition to post-secondary education, employment, or other opportunities. Please reach out to your local OVR office to learn what increased opportunities are available in your area.

Looking Forward

As ESSA continues to roll out at the state level, PSEA will provide updates to inform your practice.

If you are attending the spring House of Delegates, please stop by the Special Education Forum to hear updates and meet colleagues from across the state. The spring House of Delegates will be held in Pittsburgh on May 11-12, 2018. Learn more at www.psea.org/HOD.

400 N. 3rd Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101

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