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MAC Helpline Calls
Intensive technical assistance helps overcome school district denial of needed services
George is a very intelligent 20 year old student with Asperger’s Syndrome and severe anxiety. George received inadequate services from his school district. Unfortunately his Asperger's Syndrome exacerbated his anxiety to the point where he was unable to attend school for over seven months. He was hospitalized twice during this seven month period, because it was feared that he would injure himself. Documentation from the hospital stressed that the school was unable to meet his needs, and it recommended a therapeutic program to get George to the point where he could be ready to learn.
The school district insisted their program was sufficient even after two hospitalizations and a suicide attempt. George stated that the district program was, in his words, “traumatizing". MAC’s intensive legal technical assistance included many phone conferences discussing strategy, assisting with paperwork, assisting with letter writing, researching school programs, and being available to assist George’s mother as one crisis and hospitalization after another prevented George from attending school. After two Team meetings and a mediation session, the school district agreed to temporarily place George at the Pathway Program at McLean Hospital. George’s placement at Pathways will be reevaluated after three months to determine if the program at McLean’s can be expanded to include community access and vocational programs for George as part of a transition plan.
Restoring hope for a kindergartener kicked out of his class and sent home.
David is a five year old boy with attention deficit disorder who had significant behavior problems at school but no issues at home. Although he had an IEP, he did not get the support he needed to make progress in school and finally was unable to attend school at all.
For kindergarten, he was placed in a class of 22 students with one teacher. The boy would become very frustrated in the class and would shout and kick the other students. When he misbehaved, he was sent to a separate class of non-verbal children where he did not receive any help. Frequently the school called the parents to take him home and often he was sent to the principal’s office. At the IEP meeting in the middle of the year, the teachers agreed that he wasn’t learning. In March of that school year, the principal told the parents to keep David at home until “the problem was solved” because she was tired of babysitting him. He wasn’t suspended – parents were just told to keep him out of school. When the mother called MAC, he had been out of school for seven weeks, and she didn’t know that he had a right to attend school and get help for his unique needs. We advised the parents to request an evaluation from Boston in writing, to request all of his school records, and to request an appropriate school and class where he could learn and make progress. Within a month, he was moved to another school and placed in a class appropriate for him where his behavior improved and he was able to learn. He is in a small class and his behavior has improved.
Finding the right placement for a teen with autism and mental health needs.
Alex was successful at a collaborative day school for several years but then began to talk about harming the members of his family. His doctor felt he was homicidal and that it wasn’t safe for him to stay at home. Alex was then admitted to a psychiatric hospital and after a week was moved to a section of the hospital intended for teenagers with emotional problems and behavior issues, many of whom had been in the court system. Alex was very naïve and vulnerable in this population of “tough” kids. Because of his autism, he also needed prompting to dress, go to bed, shower and other daily living tasks which was not provided by the unit where he was placed.
His parents were desperate to move him to an appropriate residential school for students with autism. His mother contacted the school district shortly after he was hospitalized to request a meeting to discuss his changed profile and greater need for help. She was turned away by five people in different departments – they told her she’d have to wait for the summer staff, that she’d have to call a different department, and that she needed to wait until the new school year started. When she called MAC, she had spent over a month trying to meet with someone in the district. A MAC project manager called the school district’s special ed director and explained the situation. Within three days, a meeting was scheduled (in July); the people who attended the meeting knew about the boy’s situation and were ready to discuss a residential placement for him. The district agreed to identify three appropriate schools and send information about Alex to them.
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Autism Center Cases and Children's Autism Medical Waiver
Children suffer when schools see behavior as a choice rather than the result of a disability
David is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS), learning disabilities and depression. His school saw his behaviors as a choice rather than as a result of disability. He was continuously penalized due to his processing challenges, and his difficulties with executive functioning, both symptoms of his AS. As MAC staff and the medical professionals tried to work collaboratively with the school, David sank deeper into depression and had to be hospitalized twice in a four month period for suicidal ideation. During this time the school district kept him in the same program, stating the program was appropriate. Finally David was unable to attend the school’s program because the staff was unable to recognize the etiology of his behavioral issues. They increasingly became more restrictive and punitive rather than addressing his language based disability.
With persistent and detail oriented advocacy, and a willingness to work with the medical professionals and with David’s parents, MAC staff prevailed at getting the school district to agree to an appropriate out of district placement for David. Our only concern was for the substantive amount of stress David had to endure due to the punitive nature of the placement in that school district and its impact on his mental health and self esteem. Unfortunately, David’s family was unable to access attorneys or paid advocates due to their income. Without MAC assistance, David would still be in that school’s program, or worse, in the hospital or at home unable to attend school.
A creative and gifted young man finally gets a chance to succeed in school
Daniel is a 17 year old student in an urban school system diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, severe anxiety and ADHD. Daniel had spent three years repeating 9th grade in a high school when he was brought to our attention by a pro bono neuropsychologist working with the family. Daniel's mother and father have limited English proficiency. His father is Haitian and his mother is originally from the Dominican Republic. The father had recently moved out of the house leaving the family in a precarious economic situation. Daniel had been out of school for a year due to bullying, school phobia, and anxiety caused by bullying in school. Daniel was hospitalized during the summer for suicidal ideation. He spent his days isolated in his room, writing a graphic novel and documenting his internal states.
Daniel is also a gifted creative writer and visual artist. His neuropsychological evaluation documented significant academic strengths (in the superior range) combined with below average working memory and processing speed. The spread in his neuropsychological profile gave clear indications of why he was so anxious and phobic of school. Repeated meetings by his mother with the TEAM at his school did not change his program or placement.
MAC’s autism project advocate partnered with his neuropsychologist to present written documentation of the combined impact of his learning disabilities and his anxiety and the impact of the bullying he experienced. He had also been placed in classes with inappropriate peers who did not share the same gifts and interests in academics. The school district was uncooperative with Daniel's family, and did not return phone calls, lost messages, and was trying to place Daniel in a program with behavioral students. Daniel was terrified he would be seriously injured if placed with these students. His parents were not able to effectively advocate for him due to their limited understanding of their rights, limited ability to communicate with the school in a common language and limited ability to understand how the school district functioned administratively. They were being blamed for being uncooperative and not following up with Daniel by getting him to school.
After MAC partnered with the neuropsychologist, it required three TEAM meetings and program visits to extricate Daniel from the inappropriate placement and to find a program to match his profile. The placement at the behavioral program was rejected. With MAC's help, a complete record request was made. The records clearly documented the lack of progress made during three years in the 9th grade. MAC contacted school administrators to help identify programs that were a better fit for Daniel. Visits to the schools resulted in an observation of a program at the one school that matched Daniel unique profile. He has been attending the program for 3 months and is successfully getting to school daily and is making academic and social progress. The program is comprised of students with profiles like Daniel so he has peers for the first time. All of the students in this program have exceptional creative gifts.
School district delays placement and services, overrules IEP team decision
Allan was a 6 year old boy and a student in the School District diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder on the Autism Spectrum. He began receiving ABA therapy at age 4and had made tremendous progress. Despite his progress, and contrary to the unanimous recommendations of his teachers and service providers, the School District was placing Allan into the same substantially separate classroom for the fourth consecutive school year. His problematic behaviors had decreased significantly from when he was first placed in that classroom at age 3, and he was using more language to communicate his wants and needs.
But his teachers and service providers concurred that Allan, who was a very eager and rapid learner, was the highest functioning student in his class and all recommended that to continue to make progress, he should be placed in a classroom with higher functioning verbal peers. The parent had been promised that a new and appropriate placement for Allan would be identified following his April Team meeting. The school year ended in June without any contact from the School District regarding a new placement for Allan. His mother’s repeated phone calls to the School District throughout the summer went unanswered. In September, Allan was assigned back to the same classroom that his Team had concluded was not appropriate for him. The School District had also discontinued Allan’s ABA therapy services despite the fact that his mother had rejected the proposed termination of ABA services, giving rise to Allan’s legal right to have those services continue based on the last agreed-upon Individual Education Plan (IEP). Now Allan was in the same class for the fourth school year in a row and receiving no ABA services.
MAC filed a request for administrative hearing on the parent’s behalf seeking reinstatement of ABA services and an appropriate classroom placement for Allan. Within a month of the hearing request, the School District proposed a new classroom placement for Allan and agreed to allow his mother to observe other potentially appropriate classroom placements. The School District also agreed to resume ABA services at the level provided for in the last agreed-upon IEP. In the following September, Allan was finally assigned to a class where he was given work appropriate to his skills and academic level and where he was able to interact with peers who are verbal and at his cognitive level. From all accounts, Allan thrived in his new classroom environment and made great strides in his social skills development, laughing at jokes told by his peers and engaging in group work.
Bureaucratic in-fighting, blaming parents keeps Andrew from getting needed placement and services
Andrew is 18 with a genetic disorder known as Velo-Cardi-Facial Syndrome (VCFS - a form of Autism), rendering him with an IQ of 69, medical conditions, and acute psychiatric disorders, including severe anxiety which interferes with his ability to attend school and leave his home. His doctors all recommended a 24 hour therapeutic residential school where he could receive aggressive treatment for his anxieties and access educational opportunities. One of his doctors described him as “the most socially impaired individual I have evaluated with VCFS.” Andrew’s anxiety and panic attacks caused him to miss school and become suicidal when forced to leave his living environment. At the time the family came to MAC, his average school attendance in the previous two years was 25%, in past 90 days, 0%.
The MA Department of Mental Retardation (now the Department of Developmental Services) and the School District agreed he needed residential care but each insisted the other was responsible for paying. The family asked both DMR and the school district to attend a mediation. Three days before the mediation was scheduled, DMR decided not to be a party. The next day, as a consequence, the School District also declined to participate.
The school claimed that Andrew’s non-attendance was a social issue, and not educationally necessitated, and therefore it was DMR’s obligation to pay costs. DMR in response said by policy it does not pay for residential treatment for children in the ages 18-22, because this is covered by the school system entitlement. DMR did not dispute residential placement is required. They scored Andrew with an ICAP score of 67, rendering him eligible for residential services. The school district relied on the parents’ incapacity to manage Andrew to attend school and said that was the issue – poor parenting.
MAC arranged for a pro bono attorney from DLA Piper to take this case, and within two months the school district placed Andrew at a residential school in the Berkshires which serves students with psychiatric and social challenges. The school has a full academic program as well as independent living skills training and mental health counseling. Andrew is finally receiving an education and learning the skills he will need to live and work as independently as possible.
Services from Children’s Autism Medicaid Waiver make a world of difference for former soldier’s two children.
Suzanne’s children have received services from the Massachusetts Children’s Autism Medicaid Waiver Program (the “Waiver Program”), which provides intensive, community-based in-home therapeutic services for low income children with autism who are at risk for institutionalization. Each child who is enrolled in the Waiver Program is eligible for up to $25,000 worth of services per year funded by the state with a 1:1 federal match. As a result of MAC’s extensive legislative advocacy efforts, the state budget is currently providing $2.5 million for the Waiver Program in order to fund services for over 120 young children from low-income families.
Suzanne is a single mother of twin boys with autism named William and James. Prior to her sons’ diagnosis, she had a job that she loved in the United States Army and was stationed in Iraq for eleven months. Everything changed once her boys were diagnosed with autism.
William and James are her pride and joy. When they were first diagnosed with autism at age 2, Suzanne was overwhelmed and saddened. She was not completely shocked, however, because as a mom, she knew that something wasn't quite right with their development. They just weren't hitting the "milestones" like they should have been. Suzanne sought a discharge from the Army and moved back home to Massachusetts.
While attempting to find help for her boys, Suzanne learned about the Waiver Program through her local autism support center. She knew that her boys would benefit from intensive home-based services. Suzanne applied for both boys, and William was picked first through the lottery. The Waiver Program has made a world of difference to her family.
Before receiving intensive home-based therapies through the Waiver Program, William would run head-first into glass doors when he became angry and frustrated. This was probably because he didn't know how else to communicate his feelings. Suzanne was on the verge of having him fitted for a helmet. Through the Waiver Program, William began to receive 12 hours a week of intensive behavioral therapeutic services known as Applied Behavior Analysis (“ABA,”) one of the most effective treatment approaches demonstrated to improve communication, play and social skills and to decrease challenging behaviors often associated with children with ASD.
Since William started receiving ABA at home, he has ceased the self-injurious behaviors of running into glass doors. Moreover, William has started talking in complete sentences, has learned to take turns and can even tell you his name, address and telephone number. He rarely has any tantrums. Suzanne has the Waiver Program to thank for the big changes in William’s behavior.
But what about William’s twin brother James? At the time of this writing, he is non-verbal and functions at the level of an 18 month-old. In March, Suzanne also learned that James was chosen for the Waiver Program. Now he too will receive intensive home-based services after school and on weekends. She worked with his Case Manger to set up the home program, and James is initially receiving 4 hours per week of services. The number of hours he receives will increase. She is so grateful for the Waiver Program.
Because of all of the help her family has received from the Waiver Program, Suzanne knows in her heart that her two little boys are going to make progress. As mentioned, Suzanne was stationed in Iraq for almost eleven months. When asked to speak about the experience of being stationed in Iraq with raising twin boys with autism, she remarked: “I’ll say one more thing, my best day or even a good day with my boys is far more exhausting and challenging than some of my worst days in Iraq were. And this is not a war that I’ll come home from.”
A group of parents receive help from MAC for their children. Then they became advocates to help other parents in their school district.
MAC provided legal representation to four children with autism with Latino, Spanish-speaking parents. The children, ranging in age from 6 to 14, had been placed in a separate public school designed for students with emotional and behavioral problems. These students were placed in substantially separate classrooms for children with autism housed in this segregated school. None of the children in these autism classrooms were provided services, such as appropriate augmentative and alternative communication, Applied Behavioral Analysis, individual discrete trial teaching, or direct home services that could have helped them progress academically and socially. Furthermore, the school and home program staff were not properly trained to provide appropriate services for children with autism, evaluations and extended school year programming were inadequate and adequate translators and interpreters were not provided.
As a result, two of the students, who were both 13 year old, were still not able to communicate; in fact, the district’s speech therapist was recommending termination of services for lack of progress. After effective advocacy, the same speech therapist implemented the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) for the first time and both of these students were immediately able to use the system and began to progress.
MAC attorneys obtained independent evaluations, including on site classroom observations, for the four students, and the evaluators documented that the services and placements were inappropriate. After intensive negotiation at the Team level and the initiation of litigation at the Bureau of Special Education Appeals, MAC succeeded in obtaining, through settlements, out of district placements for all four students in programs specializing in educating students with autism. The first student to benefit, a six year old who was previously denied the opportunity to participate in school parties and field trips because of unaddressed behaviors related to his disability, has been in his new school placement long enough to show marked progress in his behavior. The parents of all four children are thrilled with the prospect of their children flourishing in their new schools. They have become inspired to be active advocates and vocal leaders not only for their own children, but also for other parents of children with autism in their school district with the goal of improving the public school programming in the district for all students with autism.
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Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative Cases
Independent experts knowledgeable about trauma are key to proper placement for Sara
“Mary” is a single mother who adopted “Sara” when she was ten months old from China. Upon returning to the United States, Sara was evaluated and diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and other delays. Sara received intensive individual services and therapies through Early Intervention and began to progress.
It is difficult to imagine where Sara would be today had Mary not sought legal assistance from MAC. Although Sara was properly referred to her public school district for special education evaluations before her third birthday, the Team initially found Sara ineligible for special education services. This turned out to be the beginning of a number of “battles” Mary would have with her school district in order to obtain the services Sara desperately needed rather than the bare minimum services the district offered to provide.
Mary eventually sought legal help from MAC when Sara was being suspended on a nearly daily basis from her regular kindergarten classroom for behavioral outbursts she could not control. Sara’s IEP at the time had 2 goals, almost no services, and no behavioral plan. MAC’s attorney was able to obtain independent evaluations for Sara by experts knowledgeable about trauma. These experts made a number of recommendations for changes that could be made to Sara’s program to help her successfully access the curriculum. Despite these recommendations, and Sara’s strong attachment to her kindergarten teacher, by spring of her kindergarten year the Team instead opted to propose a substantially separate “therapeutic” classroom in the building for Sara. Because Sara seemed to be suffering emotionally, feeling like a failure in kindergarten, Mary agreed to try the new classroom although she was reluctant to transition Sara so late in the year from her beloved teacher and without having tried some of the experts’ suggestions.
The following fall, independent evaluators came to observe Sara in the new “therapeutic” classroom. Each suggested that without changes to specifically address Sara’s trauma-related emotional issues, the program was not appropriate nor was it therapeutic for her. The Team, unable to demonstrate progress, nevertheless insisted the program was appropriate. Meanwhile, Sara was deteriorating. She was not able to access the curriculum in school and she was kicked out of two after school programs because of aggressive behaviors. Following a behavioral outburst Sara was extremely remorseful and upset. Mary had obtained “wrap around” mental health services at home for Sara, but Sara was saying she wanted to die and was finally hospitalized for psychiatric intervention.
At this time, MAC assembled a group of service providers and doctors to meet again with Sara’s special education Team. Each expert compellingly explained that Sara was in crisis and now required more intensive full day and full year therapeutic educational services. Sara’s school Team again insisted they could appropriately educate her in the same therapeutic classroom without any changes. MAC filed a Hearing Request and then negotiated a settlement so that Sara is now finally receiving the full day and full year therapeutic services she requires and is beginning to learn and progress.
From school failure to success through the power of proper diagnosis, good legal support and an unrelenting grandmother
Andrew has a long history of learning disability and mental health needs. From first grade, Andrew struggled with difficulties finishing his work and appeared to be unmotivated. His attention and emotional problems continued, and by 5th and 6th grades, he was labeled a behavior problem and therefore denied special education.
By seventh grade, his grandmother, his legal guardian, was repeatedly going to the school, seeking help from everyone – the teachers, guidance counselors, principal – he was suffering from migraines, depression and anxiety, and was very frustrated with his lack of progress in school. He was getting poor grades and failed MCAS. This continued into the 8th grade. But she was told that he did not need special education, he was just unmotivated, and he could do the work if he tried. They refused to provide even an evaluation.
During that school year, Andrew’s mother died unexpectedly. His school work and behavior got worse. Finally that spring, he received an evaluation and then determined that he did have a disability and was eligible for special education. But he was only given 10 minutes per day of services. Despite failing most of his classes, he was promoted to high school. In 9th grade, it only got worse. He was failing all his classes, not doing his work, and according to the teachers, acting rude and disrespectful. But he still only got 10 minutes per day of services.
The following year, he was kept in 9th grade, and he continued to fail. His grandmother sought out school staff just about weekly, but no one seemed to care. The following year, Andrew was classified as an 11th grader and continued to fail, courses and MCAS. Teachers continued to complain that he was not working to capacity, that he had no motivation, that he didn’t really have attention issues but was just lazy. They said he was capable, but just lacked discipline.
By this time, he had his share of teachers who gave up on him, who said when he was 15, “why bother, when he is 16 he will probably drop out.” Or one who told him not to bother to come to class, “you know you’re not going to learn anything.” By the end of the school year, he had failed all his subjects.
The following year, he again was classified as an 11th grader. By now MAC took his case and helped Andrew get an independent evaluation from a neuropsychologist who finally gave a scientific reason for his motivation problems that was linked to his attention, learning and mental health problems. He concluded that Andrew suffered from serious psychiatric and neuropsychological problems and needed intensive intervention. He recommended that Andrew be placed in a small, structured therapeutic program. But while the school recommended offered more counseling and accommodations than ever before, it did not provide a therapeutic placement.
MAC/TLPI’s legal staff prepared for his hearing and prevailed in a settlement. Andrew was able to attend a new school that would best meet his needs. And his grandmother was very proud to say that he made honor roll in the first semester, he passed MCAS the first time he took the test there, and he was able to play basketball, which he was not allowed in his old school because of his failing grades. As important, he has had no disciplinary issues and has been asked to be a role model for the younger students. Andrew, for the first time, began to look ahead to college.
A suicidal five year old finally gets the right placement and services.
A Children's Hospital ER social worker called MAC about a 5 year old Latino boy who had been brought to the ER because he was suicidal. The child's father had been in jail for 1 1/2 years, and the boy lived with his mother, grandmother and two siblings in a one bedroom apartment. A year earlier the boy had set a fire in his public housing apartment because he thought his father would then come home to help the family. The family was evicted and no housing, not even a shelter, was available. DSS has been unable to find housing for them. They moved into a relative's public apartment and lived there illegally. The boy felt responsible for his family's eviction and thought if he was dead, they would be able to have an apartment.
Although the child had been in a therapeutic preschool at Boston Medical Center, the School District did not evaluate him or give him an IEP when he started in public school. The boy was having problems in school because of his Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) and depression. He was in a kindergarten class with 20 students, one teacher and two part time aides. He required constant monitoring and re-direction. His impulsive, sometimes destructive and out-of-control behavior caused him to hurt other children. Although the classroom teacher tried hard to help him, she acknowledged that her large class was not working for the boy. His mother was also very worried because the school bus that took him to after-school dropped him off several blocks away on Columbus Ave in the South End, leaving him to walk alone to the after-school program.
The mother requested a therapeutic interim school placement, but the principal refused saying that the boy wasn't a danger to himself or others. When the mother requested a change in the bus drop-off, the school said it would take 90 days and might not happen even then. The school did evaluate him, however, and determined that he required services and an IEP.
MAC referred the case to our partner in the CLSP Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, Harvard Legal Services Center. Within a month, the boy was offered an appropriate placement at another public school. His mother observed the program and felt it would enable him to learn and to be safe. The School District also agreed to a bus drop-off at the after-school program instead of several blocks away. The mother is now finishing school and planning to return to work soon.
Teen goes from being a failing student with severe depression and panic attacks to being a successful student on her way to college.
Sarah had lived alone with her mother since she was two, seeing her father occasionally on weekends. Her father was an abusive alcoholic who threatened Sarah and her mother with a knife, causing her mother to leave him permanently. Sarah was somewhat withdrawn and had attention issues but did well in school. Her mother had trouble dealing with Sarah’s behavior when she was ten and took her to a psychiatrist who prescribed medication and considered the possibility of bipolar disorder. In middle school, she had severe behavior problems and depression and was hospitalized for several weeks. After this, Sarah had problems going to school – she would tell her mother she was sick and wouldn’t get out of bed. Her mother filed a CHINs, and they got some help and a therapist for Sarah.
In 9th grade, Sarah finally got an IEP which provided services in the resource room at school. This didn’t help – Sarah continued to skip school or to skip classes especially if anything had upset her in a class. She got failing grades although she did well on MCAS in 10th grade. Her team met and they developed a plan for Sarah to meet with her guidance counselor more often and for teachers to notify the counselor if Sarah started cutting their class. Things continued to deteriorate with Sarah describing panic attacks at school and seemingly unable to do any homework. She had no friends and seemed to have little in life that she enjoyed. Her mother stopped working to focus more on Sarah’s issues and became deeply depressed herself, spending days in bed and unable to advocate for her daughter. She became eligible for welfare but was unable to pay her bills.
Finally she turned to MAC. Interviews with the mother revealed the history of trauma in Sarah’s life – as a young child and later during the time she spent alone with her father. MAC/TLPI attorneys took the case and discovered that the school district had never evaluated Sarah and seldom followed through on the IEP they had developed. Sarah described her feelings at this time as hopeless – she could not graduate as things were going, she had no friends and her mother was about to be evicted. MAC requested that the school evaluate. The evaluation revealed that Sarah had significant executive functioning deficits, anxiety and depression. The evaluation combined with Sarah’s years of failure caused the town to agree to a private placement. Sarah was then enrolled in a small private 766-approved school with small classes and with teachers who supported her in completing work, planning and following through on assignments. She made many friends, completed several long papers and did well on the SATs. She also managed to catch up on the credits needed to graduate. Her counselor worked closely with her on her plans for the future and reaching her goals. Sarah’s mother returned to work, got a new apartment and was able to pay her rent.
Sarah also works with a Counselor from the Mass. Rehab Commission which will be able to pay her tuition at a state school and work with Sarah on her career plans. Sarah hopes to be a community planner or perhaps do something in the arts. Sarah’s talents and potential are now growing and she promises to become a valuable member of her society when only two years ago she was on her way to becoming a high school dropout.
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Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Student Outcomes and Transition Cases
Maria is a young woman with an intellectual impairment who lives in Massachusetts. When she was 20 years old she still attended high school in a large self-contained special education “life skills” classroom. She enjoyed art, was mainstreamed for art class, and rode the yellow school bus once a week to an internship. Maria was very attached to the school and teacher, and resisted any discussion about post-school plans. She said that she wanted to stay at the high school “until she was 24 years old”. She was not aware that getting a paying job or going to college was a possibility in her future.
When Maria was 21 her life began to change. Her school district was partnering with the local community college in the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment (ICE) program that was launched as a result of MDDC’s system-wide grant activities. The ICE program offers students like Maria the opportunity to participate in inclusive college courses as part of the district’s special education program, with necessary supports and services that help ensure success.
Although Maria was at first hesitant to participate in the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment program, with time she realized she could take more art classes, be with peers her own age, and prepare for a job. What also emerged after participating in career planning activities was her interest in and love of animals. With support from her transition teachers, Maria enrolled in the college’s art courses (basic drawing and art history), received support from an educational coach, and worked at two internships: one at a pet store and the other at an animal shelter. Initially, Maria was not at all confident she could meet the expectations of college or work. In fact, the mere mention of homework would make her anxious and uncomfortable. Over time, though, with less and less support, Maria learned to work much more independently and needed less assistance from the educational coach. Maria also learned to travel to college and work independently with public transportation, and by the end of the first semester, no longer required the school bus. With support, Maria also participated with her nondisabled peers in campus activities, such as clubs and recreational activities. Maria ultimately took great pride in her college and work accomplishments.
Maria is now 23, and has exited special education. She works part-time for pay at the animal shelter, and is taking an adult art class in the local art museum. Although Maria is a woman of few words, it is clear that she is proud of her accomplishments, has gained not only skills but the self-confidence that will enable her to continue to work and learn independently in her community.
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A 3 year old, blind and with severe disabilities, denied services, finally gets the right placement and services
A social worker from the Department of Public Health called about Ali. She had supported him and his family through early intervention and wanted to help him get the support he needed when he transitioned into the public school system at age 3. Ali is blind, has little movement and has a feeding tube. He not only needed a lot of support but also needed staff experienced in caring for children with complex medical needs. The school district delayed on meeting with the family and questioned the child’s eligibility. The social worker was concerned because of the way the town was responding and wanted help to ensure that the child got a placement appropriate for his needs. Because of the town’s delays, the child had already missed several weeks of an educational program – he had aged out of early intervention, but the public school had not started providing services.
MAC found a pro bono attorney for the family who met with the IEP Team and went with the mother to look at two private schools. The mother chose a school with expertise in teaching children with multiple disabilities and with the equipment and physical attributes needed to provide access to education for this child. The city agreed, enabling the boy to start at his new school.
Reversing a Disciplinary Expulsion
Reginald is a 14 year-old African-American student who was a seventh grader at a middle school in an urban school district in Massachusetts. Despite Reginald’s disability, his school principal imposed a one-year disciplinary expulsion from the middle school. When his IEP team proposed to place him in the district’s alternative school for emotionally disturbed students, his mother objected and obtained legal assistance from MAC.
Representing Reginald’s mother, the MAC attorney appealed the expulsion to the district’s superintendent of schools. He argued to the hearing officer that the alleged offense did not violate the provision of the discipline code cited by the principal, and that the principal gave no reason why he imposed the code of discipline’s maximum one-year school expulsion.
The superintendent of schools agreed with his suggestion that Reginald be permitted to immediately transfer to one of the district’s other middle schools for the remaining few weeks of the school year and to return to the original middle school in September. Reginald successfully completed the school year at the middle school to which he had been transferred, and is looking forward to his return to the middle school from which he had been expelled. His mother has obtained an updated evaluation of Reginald, which should result in the appropriate special education services for him as soon as possible.