Friday, August 9, 2013

Is The Unified District Not Following IDEA for the Therapy Needs of our Students with Special Needs?

UPDATE: This was message was sent to me by a parent. Good news! Concerned parents used their voices and the therapy issue with SCS is being addressed.

 ....I wanted to share with you the response I received from Bill Wilson, Assistant General Counsel for Special Education, regarding the practice that was emerging in the new unified Shelby County Schools in relation to Occupational and Physical therapy services.

You will see from Mr. Wilson’s response that Shelby County Schools has been provided the following guidance on this issue:

“Children with disabilities should receive the total number of minutes of related services as prescribed in the IEP.  If an IEP prescribes 30 minutes of occupational therapy, that means 30 minutes of actual therapy service, not expending a portion of the prescribed time setting up equipment, meeting with staff, etc., thereby reducing the time prescribed by the IEP team to benefit the child.”

Mr. Wilson reports:  “We are advised that steps are being taken to correct the practice.”

We will be sending out a summary for families and friends on our email list who reside in Shelby County so they will be prepared to address this with their IEP teams and also including the information in our upcoming Back to School E-Newsletter so families will be informed of the appropriate implementation of related services.

Additionally, we will let families know that there will be an opportunity to directly ask the Director of Exceptional Children for Shelby County Schools, Dr. Toarmina, what steps have been taken to correct the practice and address other  concerns at an upcoming meeting.      

 ORIGINAL POST: Friday, August 9, 2013

As the parent of 3 children who attended Memphis City Schools and a “legacy” Shelby County School’s employee, I was extremely excited and proud last school year when I was invited to serve on the advisory committee for the transition to a unified school district for SCS Department of Exceptional Children. I have to admit I was not the most popular SCS employee when I joined the Friends United for School Equality group and posted a pro-merger sign in my yard. Honestly, when MCS gave up their charter, I was all for consolidation. I truly believed that this was the perfect opportunity for all children in our community to have a quality public education. After observing first-hand how things have panned out, my optimism has fallen flat. 
     I thought that SCS would be taking over and running the “new” system, adopting the "best practices" of both SCS and MCS. This would have been the best thing for all the children. Unfortunately, as time passed, I came to realize that because the majority of the positions in the newly merged distric would eventually be held by "legacy" MCS employees, the suggestions made by the advisory committee probably wouldn't even be considered. While the system is now called SCS, it is primarily being run by the "legacy" administrative MCS folks.
      The charge of our advisory committee was to pull together a plan that adopted the “best practices” of each district. Yet despite the hours that my fellow committee members and I devoted to the project, the plan that has been implemented is the “legacy” Memphis City School plan. What happened to our recommendations? Who knows? 
     When I realized what was coming down the pike last school year, I gave my notice with the school system and accepted a position in higher education. I hated to leave a job that I loved so dearly, and I have kept in touch with my fellow “legacy” SCS physical and occupational therapists. I recently learned that OT/PT professionals are no longer allowed to write sensory, gross, and fine motor goals for the students who receive therapy services. It is my understanding that each therapist is a member of the IEP team, and according to the IDEA Regulations Sec. 300.23, the “individualized education program team or IEP Team means a group of individuals that is responsible for developing, reviewing, or revising an IEP for a child with a disability,” yet the therapists can only view Easy IEP (the tool for managing IEPs). They cannot even report on student progress. In the "legacy" SCS district, therapist's collaborated with the teachers and team members prior to writing any fine/gross motor goals and objectives, then entered them into EASY IEP. It was a system that worked very well.
      UPDATE- PLEASE NOTE: As of 8-15-2013, this issue has been addressed, and the therapists now have editing access to Easy IEP.
      Additionally, the therapists have been instructed that “best practice” is to provide therapy services in the classroom. I have scoured the literature and haven’t found any sound research to support this. I understand the importance of the least restrictive environment and integrating services into the child's routine as much as possible, but there is a reason that it is called an Individualized Educational Plan! Regarding therapy, the location, level of services, amount of time, and frequency is a team decision and should be based on a child’s individual needs. I know that in many situations therapy in the classroom is appropriate, and ideally it's the model to strive for; however, a blanket recommendation that all students with special needs should receive services in the regular education classroom is in direct conflict with IDEA.  
     Finally the therapists were told that "time spent with the student, and on behalf of the student, represents the amount of time of the therapy service to be provided. This includes providing student intervention or supports, staff or parent training, modifications, consultation with the regular education teacher, collaborations with the special education teacher or other team members, designing and planning, and ongoing assessment that require the skills of a therapist." For example, if a student’s IEP says that he is to receive one 30-minute session of OT per week, and the child’s occupational therapist has a 30-minute conversation with another team member/professional about the child, that should be counted as the child’s therapy time for the week. It is my understanding that unless the child's services are designated as "consultation" on the IEP, the therapist is required to provide "hands-on" direct services. 
      For these reasons, I'm worried that a unified district is not the answer for the children who live in the city, but that it may be a disaster for the children in the county and city. I’m especially concerned for those children in the district with special needs who receive physical and occupational therapy services. But all hope is not lost. I truly believe that when the parents are made aware of these changes, they will stop this madness. 
      One of the main reasons that many of the county schools (and a number of city schools, including the ones my children attended) have been successful is parental support. So, now’s the time for parents at all schools to demand what is best (and required by law) for all children! So parents, teachers, and therapists, please use your voices. Spread the word that this is unacceptable!!! 

1 comment:

  1. I have become to the point with this explanation that therapy is an important thing for our children health. We can provide them good health to our children with this.
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