What I Wish I Had Known About IEPs

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by Katie Moran

I wish I knew then what I know now.  My daughter’s superpower is dyslexia, or a specific learning disability in reading.  We’ve been working so hard to bring awareness this month in honor of #DyslexiaAwarenessMonth! She also has a diagnosis of dysgraphia, ADHD, and executive functioning disorder. 

I’m writing this for those parents at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the fight. If you’ve never been a parent in this fight, know that it’s intimidating and heartbreaking.  We need support and empathy. And I’m writing this to thank all the teachers that try to speak up but don’t have the resources to help in all the ways they want to; I know you are doing the best you can.  I’m writing this for the special education aides who listen and remind our kids that even though they are different, they are just as good as every other neurotypical kid.

Here are some tips I’ve found useful for a successful and productive Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting:  

  • Prepare: Request all test scores prior to the meeting.  This includes any standardized tests such as Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), Measures of Academic Progress for Reading (MAP-R), or Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA).  It could also be helpful to loop in the testing coordinator at your school when doing this. I find myself being caught off guard when this information is presented in the meeting (whether it be a shockingly low or high score) when school staff has had time to prepare. It’s also good to have all your child’s grades printed from the Schoolmax Family Portal the day you request the IEP meeting. I like to print them the week before the IEP meeting. That will allow you to identify inconsistencies if grades were input right before an IEP meeting, although you hope that would never be the case.  Ask who will be in attendance at the meeting. I always find this to be very important in my mental preparation. 
  • Listen:  This was a hard one for me to learn.  We all feel so passionate about our children and usually by the time we’ve requested our IEP/504 meeting, our kid has already been struggling in school for some time.  As parents, we have our own preconceived notions about our children, sometimes contrary to the information being presented in the meeting. However, it’s really important to take notes, fully listen, and ask follow up questions during the teacher’s presentation.  Working as a team is in the best interest of your child. You each have a unique perspective that together, has a lot to offer.
  • Evidence:  Keep your child’s school papers, and not just the bad ones.  I used to go to IEP meetings and it felt like teachers brought all of my child’s very best work and I brought all of my child’s worst work.  We were both proving a point. I have learned to bring work that I’m proud of and I bring a few pieces that highlight what I’d like to discuss about the IEP.
  • When you get overwhelmed: Ask for a minute.  It is okay to step out of that meeting and take a breath. Go outside. Call a friend and ask for advice if something doesn’t sound right.  Google it. Know your rights. It is okay to reschedule meeting if you have lost control. It is okay to cry.
  • Never sign your 504 or IEP at the meeting.  Take it with you and read it over, read it over many times.  Make sure you put everything in writing. What I mean when I say that is to send an email summary of the meeting within 24 hours of when the meeting took place.  If it’s not documented in that time frame in writing (and email counts), it never happened. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend hiring an advocate if you can afford it. The conversation is so much different when you have an advocate present. I understand that is a luxury not everyone can afford so here are some additional websites that can help you know your rights as you prepare for your meetings. An alternative is to bring a friend who can take detailed notes during the meeting.  Get a binder and track everything!  

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Conversation with Dr. Goldson Touches on Transportation Task Force, Homework Survey, Anti-Bullying App

by Robyn Kravitz

On Monday, October 14, parent leaders gathered for the Quarterly Conversation facilitated by the  PGCPS Family and School Partnership Office. This meeting offered the opportunity to hear updates directly from Dr. Goldson and allow the parent leaders to ask her questions through a parking lot format. Those in attendance were invited to write their questions on post-it notes, then the staff organized them into topics for Dr. Goldson to answer directly. 

During Dr. Goldson’s update, the parent leaders learned that:

  • At the request of many parents last year, a working draft has been created of a Parent Code of Conduct. We can expect to see the draft of that in the next week or so.
  • Principal’s annual reviews will include whether or not they have parent leaders in place working to organize parents within their school community.
  • Overall county-wide enrolled has increased from last year. The exact numbers, however, are not available yet.
  • Dr. Goldson will be hosting listening sessions again this fall. The format will be the same as last year. Parents and community members will have the opportunity to give opinions and Dr. Goldson will take notes. She also plans to, again, summarize what she’s heard at each session at the end.
  • A homework survey will be coming out next week. She hopes parents will share their honest experiences. PGCPS is looking to provide a health school-home life balance while still maintaining high standards of education and academic opportunities for the students.
  • Every principal has created 3 goals for their individual school this year. Dr. Goldson encourages all parents to learn what those three goals are for their school and find ways to support them. 
  • Dr. Goldson reminded parents that she can always be reached at ceo@pgcps.org. It is helpful if parents say which particular school they are referring to when emailing her. She likes to confidentially have directed conversations with the administration at those specific schools when there are issues that are brought to her attention.
  • She encourages parents groups to think outside the box when it comes to engaging the community: digital meetings, short meetings before a performance, etc.
  • Dr. Goldson gave a reminder that PGCPS has translators and they are ready to be available for parent group meetings. Inclusiveness is important when organizing families.
  • Should you need assistance or see a problem, you are encouraged to reach out to the Outreach Specialist —
    • Elementary: 301-952-6583
    • Middle School: 301-952-6584
    • High School: 301-952-6585
    • Charter & Academies can call whichever number the issues feels it best falls under.
  • Parents can sign up for PGCPS news on the PGCPS homepage. Dr. Goldson will also be posting inclement weather announcements on her personal twitter page
  • There will be a transportation task force starting. They are tasked with finding creative and outside-the-box solutions to the transportation problems.
  • A second task force is also being created. Dr. Goldson wants a parent to lead the calendar creation team instead of central office. She took names at the meeting of parents that are interested in participating.
  • And finally, PGCPS is currently piloting an anti-bullying app at a few schools right now. This app allows students to anonymously or intentionally report bully directly on their phones. The program will be expanded to more schools in January with the hopes of pushing it out to all students at the beginning of next school year. 

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We Need Transportation Solutions in Prince George’s County Schools

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by Janna Parker and Lori Morrow

The Prince George’s County Public Schools system has two hundred and seven schools spread over an area of five hundred miles of rural farmland, bustling cities, quiet suburbs and vibrant college towns, serving a community with a population of almost one million people just outside of the Nation’s capital. With statistics like that, it is imperative that the transportation for our school system be one of the best in the Country. Yet Prince George’s County Public Schools has struggled with meeting the demand for Transportation services in our county since at least 2015. Every year, the school system’s theme for September is “Attendance Awareness Month”, but this theme is greatly overshadowed by the volume of frustrating complaints from parents, students, and community members as buses arrive late, overcrowded, or not at all. 

While the national shortage of bus drivers extends well beyond the borders of Prince George’s County and Maryland, the working conditions of  bus drivers varies greatly from state to state, district to district. For months, PGCPS bus drivers have spoken before the Board of Education about the various issues that impact the retention of current employees and the recruiting of more drivers to our system. We greatly encourage the PGCPS Administration to work with the drivers in finding immediate solutions to address concerns including salary, benefits, working conditions in the bus lots, and the management of bus routes. Leadership must ensure all students are provided reliable transportation, as well as providing those trusted with our most precious cargo a proper compensation and safe and healthy work conditions.  

Through listening to testimony and conversations with bus drivers, we have heard about many possible solutions that could improve the working conditions of our drivers, thereby improving recruitment and retention to fill remaining vacancies: 

  • Providing drivers and attendants a livable wage to show the people transporting our children that they are valuable members of our PGCPS community. (The current rate of pay from the pay scale is x route hours (6-8) x 185 days / 22 pay periods, (https://www.pgcps.org/employee-and-labor-relations/), not including tax deductions, health insurance, etc.) 
  • Making salary proration an option instead of mandatory to provide employees more control over their pay
  • Guaranteeing all drivers and attendants a minimum of eight hours of pay per day 
  • Spreading health insurance deductions over all paychecks instead of 20
  • Allowing paid professional development days for drivers to participate in student safety training
  • Ensuring all bus lot facilities provide a safe, healthy work environments for employees, including adequate restrooms and cleaning services
  • Ensuring that drivers have input when scheduling routes, including making sure subsequent route times do not overlap and have realistic student loading/unloading times factored into the route timing 
  • Allowing summer work to accrue towards retirement
  • Considering hub system/routes where it makes sense for neighborhoods to consolidate routes which can be aligned to under the distance for those who walk to school
  • Providing compensation for drivers who pick up other routes during their shift to cover for absences/vacancies, similar to teachers who are compensated for having to cover additional classes due to lack of a substitute
  • Enforcing a 2-year commitment for drivers who receive Commercial Driver License training through PGCPS

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Show Up and Speak Up at Forums on Education Funding

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This past legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1030 , the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.  This legislation is a “down payment” on initial recommendations from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, more commonly referred to as the Kirwan Commission.  The Commission was established to make policy and funding recommendations to improve Maryland’s public education system. The initial funding in SB 1030 provided Prince George’s County Public Schools $53 million in grants to address concentration of poverty, teacher salaries, pre-kindergarten, students with disabilities, and struggling learners.

While this is a great first step, the work is not done. The Commission’s Funding Formula Workgroup is meeting to update the state funding formula for all public-school students in Maryland and expects to complete their work this fall. In January, the Maryland General Assembly will take up the task of figuring out how to phase in the Commission’s recommendations and fund them.

The importance of this moment for the children of Maryland should not be underestimated! These decisions will shape legislation and funding for Maryland public schools for the next decade or more.  The state’s funding formula was last updated by the Thornton Commission in 2002 and phased in from 2003-2008, which means children who started kindergarten after the last update are now juniors in high school. The next update may not come for another 10-12 years, so we need to take full advantage of this moment.

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools encourages all parents, educators, and community members to stay engaged in this process through the 2020 Legislative Session. We have joined with other advocates to share opinions and concerns about the recommendations and will do our best to keep our followers informed over this next session. Read our letter to Dr. Kirwan, chair of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, here.

In an effort to build community knowledge and support, the Maryland State Educators Association and its local affiliates are hosting a series of forums throughout the state.  There are four forums currently scheduled for Prince George’s County:

Thursday, October 10 at Laurel High School (Media Center)

Wednesday, October 23 at the Bowie Center for Performing Arts

Tuesday, November 12 at Prince George’s Community College (Rennie Forum)

Monday, November 18 at Oxon Hill High School (Media Center)

RSVP online at https://www.marylandblueprint.org

It is up to all of us to make sure our children get the high-quality public education they deserve!

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Get Involved as Prince George’s County Searches for Permanent Schools CEO

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks is hosting a public hearing on Monday, May 13th, 2019 to solicit community feedback regarding the search for the permanent Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Prince George’s County Public Schools . The hearing will be held at Charles H. Flowers High School (10001 Ardwick Ardmore Rd, Springdale, MD) from 6:30-8:30 PM.

The PGCABS Steering Committee encourages all community members to take an active role in this search process! Public hearings are opportunities to make our voices heard and work with county leadership to ensure a high-quality education for all children in Prince George’s County. Anyone interested in speaking at the hearing should call 301-952-4547 to register. Written comments may also be submitted via email to mwmilstead@co.pg.md.us with the subject line “CEO Search Testimony”. The event is expected to be live-streamed through the County Executive website.

Prior to the June 2018 primary, PGCABS asked the County Executive candidates about the CEO appointment. County Executive Alsobrooks indicated that she would involve members of the community during the search process: “In making the selection, I also feel it is important to include all stakeholders, to include the Board of Education, the County Council and the leadership of our delegation in Annapolis. The CEO needs to understand that they may report to the County Executive, but they are accountable to everyone. This includes administrators, teachers and parents, so I would like to find a way to include them in the process as well, at least to hear exactly what they would like to see in the next CEO.” Click here to read her full remarks.

Dr. Monica Goldson has served as the Interim PGCPS CEO since her July 23, 2018 appointment by the previous Prince George’s County Executive, Rushern Baker III. In accordance with Maryland law, the permanent CEO should be selected by July 1.

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The Impact of Disproportionate Suspension of Students with Disabilities

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by Pamela Talley, Sarah Wayland, and Troy Sampson

For the last nine years, Prince George’s County has been suspending students with disabilities at twice the rate they suspend students without disabilities. Because of a punitive regulation in Federal Law (IDEA), this means that 15% of the Special Education budget (roughly $3.8 million each year) cannot be used to fund special education in our county.

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from Maryland Public School Suspensions by School and Major Offense Category, 2017-208, Maryland State Department of Education

To help you interpret the table above, in 2017 the total number of students enrolled in Prince George’s County Public Schools was 130,814, the number of Black or African American students was 75,818, and the number of students with disabilities was 14,999. That means that the suspension rate for All Students was 1.25%, for Black and African American Students it was 1.56%, and for disabled students the rate was 2.49%.

This may not sound surprising, but it’s important for parents, especially those who have children with disabilities, to understand the real implications. For the last nine years, as a penalty for suspending children with disabilities at a higher rate than their non-disabled peers, PGCPS has been forced to spend 15% of its Special Education budget on supports for students in general education. The Federal Government forbids the spending of this money on special education services. For a school system the size of PGCPS, the amount of money being withheld from our students who need the most support is approximately $3.8 million dollars per year.

Instead, the money must be spent on Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CEIS), which are :

” . . . services provided to students in kindergarten through grade 12 (with a particular emphasis on students in kindergarten through grade three) who are not currently identified as needing special education or related services, but who need additional academic and behavioral supports to succeed in a general education environment.

“The [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] IDEA (20 U.S.C. §1413(f)(2)) and its regulations (34 CFR §300.226(b)) identify the activities that may be included as CEIS:

(1) professional development for teachers and other school staff to enable such personnel to deliver scientifically based academic and behavioral interventions, including scientifically based literacy instruction, and, where appropriate, instruction on the use of adaptive and instructional software; and

(2) providing educational and behavioral evaluations, services, and supports, including scientifically based literacy instruction.”

(From: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/ceis-guidance.doc)

In a presentation to the PGCPS School Board on October 11th, 2018, Dr. Gwendolyn Mason reported the following:

Issue #3: Disproportionality

  • In summer 2016, a meeting was held with MSDE [Maryland State Department of Education] to discuss the overhaul of the CEIS program in PGCPS since the previous plan from 2009-2016 was misaligned to PGCPS areas of need.
  • Based on analysis of suspension and expulsion data, MSDE determined that PGCPS was significantly disproportionate in the disciplinary removal of students with disabilities compared to nondisabled students.
  • PGCPS must use 15% of IDEA Part B funds to develop and provide Coordinated Early Intervention Services (CEIS); over $26 million has been restricted to support the CEIS program.

(You can find a link to the Board of Education meeting on video, as well as supporting documents on the SECAC website here: http://secacpg.org/document-center/selected-presentation-handouts/)

This means that over the last nine years, $26+ million of IDEA funds were shifted from the PGCPS Department of Special Education Budget to the General Education Budget to support CEIS programming. This is because any program funded from this 15% penalty under CEIS (Coordinated Early Intervening Services) CANNOT be used to service a student with an Individualized Education Plan (or IEP – the legal document created for some students with disabilities that spells out the supports, accommodations, and services necessary for that student to be educated.)

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Conversation About Inequity in Education on Thursday, February 28

What: Community Forum on Inequities in Maryland and Prince George’s County Public Schools

When: Thursday, February 28, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

Where: Charles H. Flowers High School, 10001 Ardwick Ardmore Rd., Springdale, MD 20774

Who: Presenter is Robert Ruffins from Ed Trust. Hosted by Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools

Addressing equity in education is an issue that public school systems across the country continue to struggle with. Providing children with an adequate and equitable education was a key factor in establishing the “Thornton Funding Formula” as part of Maryland’s Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002, and efforts continue this year as the Kirwan Commission seeks to update the funding formula and make recommendations to advance public education.

Elected officials at the state and local level have pledged to improve access to high quality education and better outcomes for Maryland students. However, a recent report from the Ed Trust states that data on achievement and outcomes reveal “deep inequities in opportunity for certain groups of students,” and “dramatic racial gaps in student outcomes regardless of family income.”

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Public Schools (PGCABS) invites parents, teachers, students, and members of the community to participate in an honest look at data describing educational inequities in our community, and a call-to-action.

Join us on Thursday, February 28, 7:00-8:00 PM at Charles H Flowers HS (10001 Ardwick Ardmore Rd, Springdale, MD 20774) to receive critical information from Robert Ruffins, a senior associate of national and state partnerships with the Ed Trust. School advocates will provide practical steps that everyday citizens can take to influence important policy decisions being made this spring; decisions that will impact issues such as class-size, college enrollment, and property values, for years to come.

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