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Hello CASE Community,

September has been a busy month as we have been On the CASE!  We have encountered a number of problematic issues in our school systems.  As part of our mission, CASE advocates for changes in policies, procedures and programs to improve the educational experience of students with special needs, and to promote an inclusive culture within our community.  Our work has made a difference.  This is a LONG newsletter, but well worth the read!

Please support us as we continue to take on this important work.  Make a donation to Evanston CASE by clicking the link on the left-hand column of this newsletter.

Thank you.
CASE Calls Attention to Due Process Case Involving ETHS's Transition House Program

At the September 11th District 202 School Board meeting, Cari Levin took podium during public comment to bring public attention to a recent Due Process decision against District 202 . In that case, the family of a 20-year-old Evanston Transition House student with an intellectual disability sued District 202, reported, among other things, that Transition House was an inappropriate placement for the student and that District 202 had failed to provide her with an appropriate public education under the IDEA.
Transition House is located two blocks from the ETHS campus that is home to ETHS's transition program, a day program designed to facilitate independent functioning and self-determination of young adults (ages 18-22) with disabilities. The program teaches vocational, social, domestic, community involvement, personal living, and recreational skills.
During her comments, Cari shared the major findings in the case as follows:
  • The District did not provide measurable annual goals and related services to meet the student's unique educational needs.
  • The student's unmet needs included academic instruction, vocational skills instruction, occupational therapy and social work services.
  • The student's goals were generic, not thoughtfully-drafted, and often "cut and pasted" from prior years.
  • Progress reports for the student made general, placating comments like "making adequate progress" that were not meaningful, clear or specific.
  • The District did not conduct transition assessments that were necessary to develop appropriate transition goals - and the student entered Transition House without any transition goals.
  • And, the District failed to respond appropriately to the student's serious mental health issues.
Cari concluded her remarks by asking the administration to report on what systems, policies and practices are in place to ensure that these failures will not occur again with any current or future students in Transition House. Following the board meeting, Dr. Lanée Walls, Director of Special Education, invited Cari to speak with her about the decision and subsequent corrective actions. For a description of that meeting, see below.

If you'd like to read the decision (MM v. ETHS, District 202, Case No. 2018-340) in its entirety, CLICK HERE.  

CASE Meets With ETHS Director of Special Education to Discuss Transition Programming

After Cari Levin spoke at the District 202 Board Meeting about the recent Due Process decision against the District (see above), Dr. Lanée Walls, Director of Special Education at ETHS, invited CASE to sit down with her to discuss the decision and the improvements that ETHS is making to its transition process. On September 20th, Cari and Jill Calian, CASE Board President, met with Dr. Walls.

Dr. Walls highlighted the following changeless to Transition House ("TH") and transition planning:
  • TH has been recently remodeled; furniture no longer looks as if it was "pulled off the curb."
  • ETHS revised the TH curriculum in the summer of 2018.
  • Dr. Walls instituted a practice of reviewing old goals prior to transition (at IEP meetings) so that the team can be sure that students' goals are evolving appropriately; that nothing is being inadvertently dropped, etc.
  • ETHS Special Education department has shifted to a new and better IEP platform called "Embrace." Dr. Walls said she is instructing staff to override the "drop-down menu" for progress reporting (e.g., "making adequate progress") and instead provide meaningful narrative.
  • Dr. Walls has implemented a new process for revising/updating students' IEP's before they move to TH, regardless of when their annual review is due.
  • Students' IEP teams will conduct a 30-day check-in after students begin at TH.
  • There have been several new hires to the ETHS Special Education staff, including Dr. Lauren McArdle, Assistant Director of Special Education- Operations; and Dr. Lesley Roberts, Special Education Department Chair.
Dr. Walls also said she would like to meet with CASE families whose students are not having a positive experience at TH. If your student is struggling at TH, CASE encourages you to take up Dr. Walls' offer and let her know the specific ways in which TH is not working for your child.

We also hope that those of you with students at TH (or otherwise "in transition") will continue to keep us posted. Please let us know whether you are seeing the above practices being implemented. It is critical that we hear your feedback so that we can continue to press for needed reform. Thank you!

CASE Meets with District 65 Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent for Special Services

CASE (Cari Levin, Katie Smith, and Jill Calian) recently met with Dr. Goren, District 65 Superintendent to discuss Special Educational programming in District 65. Joyce Bartz, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services joined the meeting as well.

The initial impetus for meeting was the FY17 Annual Financial Report that the District mailed out over the summer. The Report contained a graphic entitled, "District 65 by the Numbers." This graphic included all sorts of demographic information about the District, including number of schools, number of teachers, percentage of students disaggregated by race, percentage of low income enrollment, student mobility, etc. It contained no information about the percentage of students with disabilities (who in fact account for about 13% of the District's student population).

The report also failed to separately account for special educational services in its description of how educational funds are spent.
When we sat down with him, Dr. Goren immediately understood and apologized for the omission of students with disabilities from the Report. Although the Report had been produced by the business office, Dr. Goren took responsibility for the omission and acknowledged that sometimes failure to say something in effect says something. We then had a lengthy discussion about the importance of being intentional about including special education in District communications. 

We discussed concerns about the academic performance of students with disabilities and affirmed our view that this should be addressed as an equity issue. Dr. Goren and Ms. Bartz agreed. We highlighted some bright spots in the District -e.g., particular Special Education personnel, individual school PTA's which are increasingly informed about and sensitive to the experiences of families with children with disabilities. We framed this as an indication that the community values inclusion and diversity.

Dr. Bartz candidly acknowledged some of the short-comings in the District's special education programming, e.g., the inclusion-for-everybody initiative. We had a meaty conversation about the recent speech-language delivery model change (see CASE Pushes Back on Change to District 65 Speech-Language Policy). Both Ms. Bartz and Dr. Goren encouraged us to meet with them periodically to discuss issues that come up in the CASE community.

CASE Pushes Back On Change To District 65 Speech Language "Policy"

We learned through the CASE Parent Connections Facebook Group that a number of parents/guardians had received telephone calls and/or emails from their children's District 65 speech-language therapists in which the therapists encouraged them to agree to a reduction in their child's direct speech therapy minutes in exchange for consultation minutes between the therapists and classroom teachers. This change was described as a new District 65 policy.

CASE was appalled about this insidious practice. While collaboration between a child's classroom teacher and their speech-language therapist is indeed beneficial and can be effectuated through the addition of consultation minutes in a child's IEP, the decision to relinquish direct service minutes in order to obtain consultation should be made within the context of an IEP meeting. In other words, the child's team should carefully examine the data and consider whether the child's unique needs justify this modification.

Accordingly, CASE wrote a strongly worded letter to Joyce Bartz setting out our misgivings about this new District "policy." Our scheduled meeting with Dr. Goren was set for the same day that we sent our letter - and we were able to hash this out in a face-to-face m eeting with Ms. Bartz and Dr. Goren.

According to Ms. Bartz, it was never intended that therapists reach out to parents and try to talk them into this change. Ms. Bartz entirely agrees that a decision to give up direct therapy in exchange for consultation minutes would need to be made by a child's IEP team. She was not sure how this got miscommunicated to the speech therapists, but she committed to walking it back.

If you agreed to a reduction in your child's speech language minutes as a result of an overture by your child's speech and language therapist that occurred outside an IEP meeting, and you would like to have the direct speech therapy minutes reinstated, contact Michelle Brand at (847) 869-8007 and make this request.

Also, a word to the wise: although Ms. Bartz demurred to the practice of changing IEP's via telephone call or email, she endorsed idea that consultation minutes are "best practice" in the field. Be on the alert in upcoming IEP meetings for your child's team to recommend that consultation minutes supplant some portion of your child's direct speech therapy. If the team suggests this, remember that you can ask that consult minutes be added without a reduction in direct services.

Please let us know how this unfolds for your child! The sharing of your experiences with the District informs our advocacy - so thank you!