Seek's voice in hartford

SEEK  holds positions on special education matters that impact students with disabilities in Connecticut and  creates Bills on important matters that require change.  


We have retained a well-respected Hartford consultant help us track legislation and set up meetings with legislators and key staff.  SEEK's  legislative committee of Andy Feinstein, John Flanders, Terry Bedard, Diane Willcutts, and Gerri Fleming have developed an aggressive legislative agenda, aimed at securing and enhancing the rights of students with disabilities.

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SEEK Announces Proposed Bill 6822

An Act Concerning the Protection of School Personnel in Communications Related to Special Education Services

Click to see bill

Protecting School Staff from Retaliation

The process of developing IEPs relies, in theory, on the active and honest participation of all who know and work with the child. This means that teachers and related service providers need to be able to speak freely at Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meetings. All too often, school staff meet in advance and are told what they can and cannot say at meetings. Public school teachers and service providers commonly report that they are fearful of speaking out on behalf of children with disabilities because, if they do so, they will be reprimanded or punished by their supervisors. SEEK is developing legislation to protect school staff from retaliation for speaking openly and honestly when planning the program and placement of a student with disabilities.

Our Position

What parents, advocates, and attorneys hear from school staff:

“You can’t say this came from me, but you need to ask the district to evaluate your child for special education.” 


“I can’t tell parents about the problems their child is experiencing at school
because, if my supervisor found out I did this, I could lose my job.”

“I advocated for a child (with disabilities) to get more support at school. As a result, I was reassigned to a classroom with the most difficult kids and not enough staff.”

Teachers and other school staff who support children with disabilities are routinely silenced by administrators—often in an attempt to avoid the cost of necessary special education services.  
For example, it is common for the school team to meet prior to Planning and Placement Team meetings (PPTs), so the administrator can let staff know what they can and cannot say during the meeting. If a teacher breaks ranks and makes a recommendation that was not previously approved, it is not uncommon for there to be consequences—anything from receiving a verbal reprimand to being fired.

Denying a child necessary services when they are younger often results in escalating problems and a need for exponentially more expensive services down the road. And damaging parent trust makes litigation more likely, whereas working collaboratively and honestly with parents typically results in parents being willing to meet the school district more than halfway.  
Aside from costs to the district, censoring teachers is damaging to individuals and society as a whole. Students with disabilities who receive inappropriate programming are at high risk for depression, dropping out of school, unemployment and underemployment, and incarceration. Investing in appropriate programming for students with disabilities is beneficial to everyone, and for that to happen, school staff need to be able to openly express their views about a student’s needs.

As a start, we need a Connecticut statute to protect teachers and school staff from retaliation and to encourage them to communicate with parents and others inside and outside of PPTs their perceptions regarding the student’s disability, program, and placement. 

SEEK's 2019 Legislative Agenda & Positions

Ample Funding of Local Special Education Programs

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When Congress passed the Individual with  Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975, it promised to fund 40% of the special education costs. Congress has failed to meet this commitment,

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Educational Evaluations & Observations

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The Connecticut State Department of Special Education issued guidance on a parent's right to an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) and observations that has made attaining IEEs and observations less available to parents of children with disabilities.



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Discipline

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Due to their disabilities, students with IEPs disproportionately exhibit  maladaptive behavior. Dealing with these behavior issues is a delicate  matter which has led to conflict between teachers and administrators. 

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Individualized Education Plans

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There is a legislative initiative to create a Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative, which could compromise the individualization of special education programs. 

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Achievement Gap

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There is a wide achievement gap  between students with disabilities and their typical peers. 

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Hearings/Burden of Proof

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There is a recurring legislative effort to switch the burden of proving an appropriate  program from the school district to the parents.

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Additional SEEK Positions

Legislation to Empower Teachers to Remove Students

SEEK-CT is committed to ensuring that every Connecticut child has a safe classroom in which to learn. Students with disabilities sometimes engage in maladaptive behavior that can be disruptive or physically violent.  In 2018 the Legislature, with no input from students with disabilities or their parents, passed Public Act 18-89 ostensibly designed to address the problem of classroom safety. Governor Malloy, in response to public outcry against the bill vetoed the legislation and appointed a Task Force to revamp the proposal. To date the Task Force has failed to produce a bill that does not conflict with existing state and federal law or undermine efforts to provide these students with the skills they need to be functional members of society.


SEEK-CT believes that effective legislation can be written to address the real concerns of educators. Such legislation requires three elements:


1.  The law must strictly follow the requirements of the Individual with Disabilities In Education Act (IDEA), including the use of Functional Behavioral Analyses (FBAs) and Individual Behavior Plans, utilizing positive behavioral support and trauma-informed interventions. The entire process must be conducted with the equal participation of parents. Further, all students exhibiting serious maladaptive behavior must be promptly evaluated for eligibility for special education services. Providing services to potentially disruptive students can avoid the problem in the first place.  


2. Many teachers and service providers report that they receive inadequate support from school administrators when faced with a student with disruptive behaviors. Some report that they are aggressively discouraged from referring students to special education to the point that they are threatened with retaliation for seeking additional services for these students. SEEK-CT supports legislation to protect school staff from retaliation for supporting a student’s needs.


3. Many of the cases of young students engage in disruptive or violent behavior because it is, for them, the only effective means of communicating their wants and feelings. School districts need to provide the resources and supports to provide students with limited verbal abilities the tools they need to express themselves. Punishment perpetuates the disability.


It is clear that almost all disruptive behavior, particularly that of young children, results from unmet needs and deficits in the children’s ability. SEEK-CT recognizes the need to prevent possible injury to others in the room but adamantly opposes any attempt to address the problem through punishment or emoval from education without effective steps to support the student’s development.

The Achievement Gap for Students with Disabilities

The achievement gap in Connecticut between children with disabilities and those without disabilities is acute. According to the most recent data from the CT State Department of Education children with disabilities perform significantly behind their nondisabled peers in reading and math for grades 3 through 8. This data does not include 1% of students with severe cognitive disabilities who are exempt from standardized testing.


Lower achievement has a devastating impact on children with disabilities leading to higher incidence of health diagnoses; higher dropout rates with fewer students reaching post-secondary education; and higher crime rates, unemployment, and poverty. This all leads to a greater strain on Connecticut’s economic resources and social services needed to support adults with disabilities who were not prepared by elementary and secondary education. 


The federal law protecting children with disabilities – The Individual with Disabilities Education Act – states its purpose as: 


“to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” 20 U.S.C. Section 1400(d)(1)

The data clearly show that Connecticut’s educational system is not working, particularly for children with disabilities who are not fully prepared for further education, employment, and independent living. The one-size-fits-all approach to education contributes to the wide achievement gap. Closing the larger achievement gaps, even over the course of several grades, would require a much larger commitment of resources to educating students with disabilities.


Closing the achievement gap will require an immediate, multi-faceted approach that addresses the whole child in a more comprehensive way given individual need. Some of the common elements of a whole child-based program include: (1) teachers who are more highly trained and certified in scientific, research-based programs such as Orton-Gillingham; (2) availability of school wellness programs to promote physical and mental health; (3) child-centered curricula that permit hands on, active engagement; (4) high-quality early intervention, after school, and summer enrichment programs to enhance achievement and develop social skills; (5) parent and school community involvement focused on a team approach. This whole-child approach is a critical step toward curtailing Connecticut’s educational decline, particularly for children with disabilities.


Furthermore, students need individualized programs, tailored to their own needs. Too often, students with disabilities are placed in pre-established programs which poorly serve their individual needs.  

Excess Cost Reimbursement

Federal law permits each state to establish a Local Education Agency Risk Pool to protect school districts from exceptionally large costs imposed by the needs of one highly involved student, subject to conditions ensuring a maintenance of effort in state spending. 20 U.S.C. §1411(e)(3). Connecticut has responded by creating the Excess Cost grant in C.G.S. 10-76g(b) providing: “Any local board of education which provides special education … shall be financially responsible for the reasonable costs of special education instruction … in an amount equal to … four and one-half times such average per pupil educational costs of such board of education. The State Board of Education shall, within available appropriations, pay … any costs in excess of the local … board's basic contribution.” The appropriation for excess cost reimbursement is around $140 million and has been at that level for the last 7 years. This amount is about 72% of the total amount of claims submitted by local school boards, meaning that local school boards are receiving about 72 cents on the dollar for excess costs of an individual student amounting to more than 4.5 times the average cost of a pupil in the district. The average per pupil cost varies across the state from a low of just under $13,000 to a high of $42,000. The median figure is $18,354, resulting in an average excess cost threshold amount of $82,600.


Various bills are filed each year to lower the threshold amount (which can be as low as three times average per pupil costs under federal law) and to eliminate the appropriations cap. If the appropriation remains at $140 million, lowering the threshold amount will simply result in a lower percentage reimbursement for a larger number of filed excess cost claims. Whether any district gets more money under such a formula is purely conjectural, except that it is predictable that districts serving the most needy students will suffer a reduction in reimbursement. On average, however, all districts will get the same amount as they get now. What will change is that the protection afforded to districts for extremely high cost placements (some like the PACES program at the American School for the Deaf run $276,000 for a year-round program; the New England Center for Autism can be as high as $345,000 a year) will be much lower. Increasing the appropriation does not appear viable in the current budget setting.


SEEK’s principal concern is that the excess cost grant is the only state money that goes to local school districts directly to support special education. The excess cost grant supports high cost placements, but it does nothing to help local school districts build capacity to serve large populations of students with disabilities. For example, the gold standard for reading instruction for many children with learning disabilities is the Orton-Gillingham program. Very few districts employ teachers who have been certified in this program and hence cannot offer the type of reading instruction that can make a huge difference. Another example: a discrete trial ABA program for a young child with autism requires, often, a 1:1 behavioral therapist. Very few districts can afford to provide such programming, although it is the one intervention that has strong results. The excess cost grant channels all state support for special education to a very small number of extremely high need students. In so doing, the grant does nothing to help school districts create and run the type of programs that can make a huge difference for many other students with disabilities.

Special Education Cooperative Insurance

The cost of providing special education services has always been a major factor in both the individual decisions on programs for students and policy debates on the issue. In 2018 the Connecticut School Finance Project proposed a new model to deal with these costs. At the end of the last session, the Legislature created a Task Force to review the model and make recommendations. To date, the Task Force has not issued a report.

In simple terms the model is to create a captive insurance company to manage and stabilize the cost of special education to individual school districts. Under the proposal the money to be used for special education in each district will be paid into an insurance company along with all state and federal funds appropriated for special education. As schools provide special education services to individual students, the district would bill the insurance company which would reimburse the district for the total cost of the services provided.

Purportedly, this would protect the towns from having to deal with unexpected costs, especially those arising after the town’s school budget has been approved. The insurance scheme would protect districts from the situation in which a student with very high costs moves into the town or is identified mid-year. Educational budgeting would be made easier because the town’s insurance premium would be set prior to the adoption of the town’s budget.


Notwithstanding this posited benefit to town budgeteers, SEEK-CT opposes this proposal for the following reasons:


Cost: The insurance program will have administrative costs which will be funded by taking money from already strained special education budgets. Further, in order to be able to handle unexpected claims, the insurance company will need to build up the reserves required by state insurance law, again funding those reserves from special education funds. Neither of these added costs provide any additional benefit to student with disabilities.

Incentive to Reduce Services: Although the model guarantees that each district will be reimbursed for all costs it incurs during the year, it will do so with the knowledge that the premium cost for the following year will be based on prior year utilization. Moreover, insurance companies have adjusters, who will press districts to reduce costs. The result will be strong new pressure to cut costs, undermining the collaborative PPT process, mandated by federal law, which is supposed to determine appropriate programming for a student.

  

Exacerbating the Inequity Between Towns: Wealthier towns, when they choose to, are able to provide for more and better special education services that the cities and less affluent communities. While all a districts’ special education costs are to be reimbursed by the co-op based on the previous years’ expenditure, poorer districts will face stronger pressure to deny services or face sharply increased premiums for subsequent years if they provide a student with the full panoply of needed services and supports. Wealthier districts will continue to have the resources necessary to meet the cost of providing appropriate services.

Observations

Parents should play an integral role in the education of their children. In order for parents of students with disabilities to be full partners in their child’s educational decision-making process, they need to be able to observe what happens in to the classroom. Both the parent and the educational expert retained by the parent need to be able to observe both the current and the proposed program for the student with a disability. SEEK-CT understands the need for some limitations, including a prohibition on the parent or the parent’s expert interfering in the instruction or violating the confidence of other students in the room. Yet, currently many Connecticut school districts prohibit all parent observations or so limit them in time and in what the parent or the expert may observe as to render the observation unhelpful.


An effective balance is available. Massachusetts enacted legislation in 2008 which reads in part, “To insure that parents can participate fully and effectively with school personnel in the consideration and development of appropriate educational programs for their child, a school committee shall, upon request by a parent, provide timely access to parents and parent-designated independent evaluators and educational consultants for observations of a child’s current program and of any program proposed for the child, including both academic and non-academic components of any such program. Parents and their designees shall be afforded access of sufficient duration and extent to enable them to evaluate a child’s performance in a current program and the ability of a proposed program to enable such child to make effective progress. School committees shall impose no conditions or restrictions on such observations except those necessary to ensure the safety of children in a program or the integrity of the program while under observation or to protect children in the program from disclosure by an observer of confidential and personally identifiable information in the event such information is obtained in the course of an observation by a parent or a designee.” SEEK-CT supports Connecticut adopting similar legislation.


SEEK-CT’s members face obstacles to observation every day throughout the state. Without the ability to observe, or have their expert observe, parents are forced to accept, at face value, the reports of school officials, who often paint an unduly rosy picture of the student’s performance. Indeed, it is common for parents to be told that a student has mastered a skill which the student never exhibits at home. Further, school officials tell parents of services being provided which the student tells the parent do not exist. Only through observation can a parent gain comfort in what is going on in school and become able to participate, as an equal partner, in the process.

Restraint and Seclusion

Restraint and seclusion are overused in Connecticut schools. More needs to be done to reduce the need for these types of aversive and extraordinary responses to maladaptive behavior. State data show that there were over 100,000 reported incidents of restraint and seclusion from 2014-2017. Most incidents of restraint/seclusion are preventable if school staff are provided with the training and support they need.

  

Pinning children down or isolating them and imprisoning them in small rooms are ineffective ways to manage behavior. These types of interventions are often traumatic for children, intensifying behavioral challenges in the long run. Restraint undermines the trust between the teacher and student, and students feel scared and abandoned when placed in seclusion. The experience is even more frightening and isolating for students who have been victims of abuse or violence.


Restraint and seclusion are prohibited in Connecticut except in unusual, emergency situations to prevent immediate or imminent injury to the student or others. However, what constitutes an “emergency” is highly subjective. Too often students are restrained or secluded for being disobedient or disruptive, in violation of the law. Whether used consistent with the law or not, repeated use of restraint or seclusion must be viewed as the failure of educational programming: it means that supports, educational methodologies, and placement are inadequate or inappropriate for the student.  


To help reduce these incidents, Connecticut schools need to address the underlying causes of the inappropriate behavior. Those causes can include anxiety, frustration with skills deficits, including both communication and academic skills, and past trauma. School personnel who may be involved in using restraint or seclusion must receive comprehensive training in a research-validated program of positive behavior interventions and crisis management. If the use of a particular restraint or form of seclusion is approved for use with any student in an emergency or dangerous situation, all personnel involved with the student need to receive training in its appropriate use and dangers. 


Last session the Legislature passed section 4 of Public Act 18-51 which introduced the concept of “exclusionary time out” (ETO) to the statute on restraint and seclusion (C.G.S. §10-236b). This concept is creating considerable confusion in districts.  ETO is described as “a temporary, continuously monitored separation of a student from an ongoing activity in a non-locked setting, for the purpose of calming such student or deescalating such student's behavior.”  Unlike incidents of seclusion, districts are not required to notify parents when ETOs are being used -- even if these are used repeatedly or for extended periods of time -- and are not required to report any ETO data to the state. SEEK-CT has seen numerous incidents in which ETOs are utilized not to calm the student but as punishment when a student is slow to complete work or is non-compliant. Some students report that they were prevented from leaving the ETO for lengthy periods of time.

The Legislature has passed strong legislation on restraint and seclusion. The Legislature must ensure that the statute is being enforced. 

Role of the Connecticut State Department of Education

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is premised, in part, on the Spending Clause, under which the federal government provides money to a state and, in exchange, the state agrees to comply with the federal statutory scheme in administering the program and spending the funds. Pursuant to the IDEA, the State of Connecticut annually submits a state plan under which Connecticut commits to complying with the federal requirements and ensuring that all educational programs in the state are under the general supervision of the State Department of Education. 20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(11). Indeed, if a local school board fails to comply with the requirements of the IDEA, the State Department of Education has the obligation to cut off funding to that local school district. 20 U.S.C. §1413(d)(1).  


Parents of students with disabilities are often faced with aggressive actions by local school administrators curtailing the student’s right to an observations by an expert, an independent educational evaluation at public expense, a referral to an out of district placement, services of a qualified speech and language pathologist or behavior analyst, access to data to support ratings of an IEP, and dozens of other issues. Parents can utilize the complaint process, but investigations are slow, often cursory, biased in favor of local school boards, not publicized and fail to provide any remedy to the injured student. The State Department does not audit school districts and has no formal oversight program over local districts, absent a complaint. Further, the State Department of Education rides local districts to comply with certain trivial procedural requirements, usually as a result of a scolding from the U.S. Department of Education, but fails to insist that local districts meet the substantive requirements of the IDEA.


The Bureau of Special Education at the State Department of Education employs only 12 professionals plus the bureau chief. And, the Bureau has substantial administrative responsibilities, including preparation of the annual state plan, running the due process and mediation system, assembling data for the State Performance Plan, and approving private special education placements. With this size staff, the Bureau is unable to perform the oversight required by the federal statute. Moreover, the Department of Education sees itself as the management consultant to, rather than the regulator of, local school districts.


The Legislature has an important oversight role. SEEK-CT urges the Education Committee to exercise that role and, in so doing, press the administration to revitalize the State Department of Education and regularly audit local school districts to ensure compliance with the IDEA.

School Safety

Schools must be safe havens from bullying, discrimination, harassment, aggression, violence and abuse. Safety is a necessary precondition to learning. The recent rash of school shootings is frightening, and schools are appropriately taking steps to prevent a recurrence. Still, the fear of school shootings must not transform school-safety policy-making decisions into exercises of coercive force. Instead, we can promote school safety by improving the school climate. Bullying, both by fellow students and by teachers, harassment, teen dating violence and punitive school disciplinary practices all create the alienation and anger that lead to violence in school. Many students do not feel safe at school.


Promotion of a multi-tiered system of support that integrates school crisis, safety, mental-health teams with Planning and Placement Teams will promote wellness, prevention and interventions to those students who require these services. As noted in the Report of the Office of the Child Advocate on the Shooting at Sandy Hook School, maintaining such supports in individual silos denies the need for a holistic approach and coordination of care. SEEK-CT believes that we cannot simply ignore the complex issues that arise when children feel threatened, exhibit maladaptive coping behaviors, (reactivity, aggression or social withdrawal) and or develop clinical disorders. School disciplinary practices, zero-tolerance policies, suspension, expulsion, the increased presence of law enforcement in school and school arrests contribute to the feelings of fear, rejection and alienation in some students. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with disabilities are disproportionately targeted by these school policies which aim to punish rather than teach. This is later mirrored in rates of incarceration as persons with disabilities and from disadvantaged backgrounds comprise the bulk of the adult prison population. Schools need to end the practice of criminalizing students rather than educating them. Programs emphasizing social-emotional and behavioral health development that include trauma-informed practices and access to comprehensive school and community-based mental health services are not parenthetical to learning—they are essential. Key to establishing such a system includes ongoing, robust training in evidence-based practices for all staff.  


Connecticut  must determine its priorities—schools or prisons--pay now or pay later. A common response to budgetary shortfalls is to reduce the money earmarked for special education. This penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to funding education fails to appreciate that nurses, social workers, guidance counselors, school psychologists, etc. are often funded in special education budgets. Cuts to special education leave schools ill-equipped to provide comprehensive developmental or behavioral health supports to children. Focusing on supporting students who have been exposed to traumatic events and mitigating the effects of trauma, rather than punishing maladaptive behavior, will significantly improve the academic, social and behavioral outcomes for all students.

Testimony on 2019 Bills

Regionalization of Districts

Testimony of SEEK-CT Before Education Committee on Regionalization March 1, 2019


Chairman Sanchez, Chairman McCrory and members of the Committee,


I am here today representing Special Education Equity for Kids in Connecticut (SEEK-CT), Connecticut's first organization of parents, providers, advocates and attorneys fighting for excellent education for the 70,000 Connecticut students with disabilities. We have found that teachers, administrators and academics have been invited to sit at the decision-making table when crucial questions of special education are decided; but parents and advocates for students with disabilities have been left without a seat. SEEK-CT seeks to remedy that oversight.

The Committee has in front of it four bills seeking to consolidate small school districts into single larger ones. By point of reference, Connecticut, for the 2013-14 school year, ranked 21st among the states in average enrollment per school district, with just over 3,000 students per district on average. The range was from Montana at 354 students per district to Hawaii, with a single statewide district, at 190,000 students per district. Looked at otherwise, Montana has fewer that two schools per district on average, while New York has four, Maryland has 56, and Hawaii has 290. Connecticut, on the other hand, averages slightly more than 6. In other words, Connecticut is not particularly out of line nationally.


Still, the pressure for regionalization stems from budgetary concerns. Connecticut districts range from Union with 90 students up to Bridgeport with 21,000. We have 19 districts with enrolment below 500 and 8 districts above 10,000 (with two more -- Fairfield and West Hartford -- just below the 10,000 number). There are 42 districts with less than 1,000 enrolment.


There are certain basic costs to running a school district, but they are not truly fixed. In other words, many of the smaller towns have part-time superintendents and individuals who both serve as special education directors and special education teachers. Instead of hiring related service personnel, smaller districts contract for speech and language, physical therapy and occupational therapy on an as needed basis.  


Still, there is some correlation between district size and average per pupil cost. The 42 districts with fewer than 1,000 students have an average per pupil cost of $23,295, while the 10 districts with 9,900 students or more have an average per pupil cost of $16,368. Yet, these figures may be misleading. Among the smaller districts are the rich towns of Canaan, Cornwall, Sherman and Salisbury. Among the large districts are the impoverished cities of Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven. Waterbury, and New Britain. The differential may be largely the result of the fact that we still rely heavily on property taxes to fund education.


SEEK-CT is an organization focused on special education. We have, frankly mixed feeling about regionalization. On the one hand, students with disabilities need districts with large enough funding bases to create and maintain excellent programs in reading, in autism, in social skills. On the other hand, students with disabilities are ill-served by regional centers providing specialized instruction that exclude them from typical students. In our experience seeking appropriate services for students with disabilities, we have not found that larger districts necessarily provide better services than smaller districts, or that richer districts necessarily provide better services than poorer districts.


What we frequently run into is the fact that the "I" in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the "I" in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) is ignored. Instead, special education directors seek to force students with disabilities into pre-existing programs that often do not serve the needs of the student. Sometimes, this may reflect an effort to save money, but, more often, it stems from a bureaucratic mindset that places organizational structure above individual needs.  


Whatever this Committee decided to do about regionalization, SEEK-CT asks that the following principles be observed in the design of the program:


1. Students with disabilities must be educated with non-disabled peers to the maximum extent practicable. That means simply that grouping all students with disabilities from a variety of towns into a single, self-contained program is unacceptable, without regard to any alleged cost-savings involved.


2. The excess cost grant provides some level of protection against the catastrophic costs of a single severely-impaired student in a district. Regrettably, the excess cost grant is the only state funding stream directly for special education. Regardless of the size of school districts, the state needs to provide funding to create and maintain strong special education programs in districts, particularly in the areas of reading, autism, executive capacity and social intelligence. Some sharing of staff and resources between small districts can produce better services for students with disabilities. 


3. There has been serious growth in the proportion of district education budgets that go to administration. Some of this growth is required by the increasing need for social workers, psychologists, and counselors to deal with the epidemic of anxiety that has swept Connecticut schools over the last few years. Still some of this growth is directly attributable to the ever-increasing requirements that the Legislature has levied on local school districts. An example of this is P.A. 18-183 which, in response to reports of the State Auditor, placed extensive requirements on school districts when they place students with disabilities to private schools. The overhead costs of maintaining an independent school district are, to a significant degree, driven by Legislative mandates.


4. In the special education space, consolidation of services is not justified. However, consolidation of evaluation could be. We see no major advantage of having school psychologist who spend most of their time testing students at each and every school in the state. We need counselors in each school, but the testing function could be consolidated, resulting both in improved quality and reduced costs.


5. The federal IDEA regulations on least restrictive environment provide that a student with a disability be placed "as close as possible to the child's home." 34 C.F.R. §300.116. Clearly, regionalization could lead to the closing of a number of local schools. While nothing in the IDEA prohibits school consolidation, there is an important public policy in maintaining neighborhood schools. With school consolidation inevitably comes increased transportation time and increased transportation costs. For some students with disabilities, increased time on a bus or van can have a severe impact on the student's ability to learn.  


Regionalization is a complicated, controversial issue. If this process moves forward, SEEK-CT wants to be part of the process to ensure that the interests of Connecticut's 670,000 students with disabilities are protected.



Regionalization of Districts

Testimony of SEEK-CT

Before Black and Puerto Rican Caucus

February 19, 2019

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Caucus,



I am here today representing Special Education Equity for Kids in Connecticut (SEEK-CT), Connecticut's first organization of parents, providers, advocates and attorneys fighting for excellent education for the 70,000 Connecticut students with disabilities. We have found that teachers, administrators and academics have been invited to sit at the decision-making table when crucial questions of special education are decided; but parents and advocates for students with disabilities have been left out in the cold. SEEK-CT seeks to remedy that oversight.

We are pleased to be able to appear before you today, because we have numerous common interests. First, and critically important, we are concerned about the extreme segregation of schools in Connecticut, both in terms of race and in terms of wealth. The towns of Region 12 -- Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington- have a total grand list of $3.6 billion dollars from which property taxes provide for 604 students, meaning there exists nearly $6 million of property wealth for each student in town. Hartford, on the other hand, has a grand list of $4 billion dollars from which property taxes provide for 20,500 students, which translates into $200,000 of property wealth for each student. Regional School District 12 is 1.2% black and Hispanic, with 1.9% of the populations living in poverty. Hartford is 78% black and Hispanic and 31.6% of the population lives in poverty. Back in 1977, our Supreme Court ruled, in Horton v. Meskill, that the economic inequality in school funding in Connecticut was unconstitutional. The current economic inequality may be worse today than it was in 1977.


For those of us concerned about special education, what this means is that numerous poorer school districts simply lack the resources to provide any semblance of an appropriate education. For kids in those districts, special education mean segregation, low expectations, and no useful services. This is not to say that rich districts do a great job, but their failures are not ones caused by lack of resources. And, due to poverty and the insecure family structures that often stem from poverty and racism, kids in poorer districts are often the ones who need special education services the most. Connecticut cannot continue down this path of segregation, of two states -- one affluent and one impoverished, one white and one black and Hispanic.  


One area in which disproportionality is most acute is in the area of discipline. The March 2018 GAO report documented how much more often black male students are expelled, suspended, removed from the classroom and sent to the police than white students. The geographic charts in this report make clear that Connecticut is no exception from the national trend. As you know, legislation passed last session, that was vetoed by Governor Malloy, to make it easier for teachers to remove students from the classroom. This legislation is again pending, as Raised Bill 7110. Our position is clear. Disruptive students need to be provided with services. And, if the Legislature is legislating in this area, the Legislature needs to find a way to deal with the disproportionality of discipline. Passing the bill in its current form will unquestionably lead to more black and Puerto Rican students sent out of class and deprived real educational opportunity.


Another issue of mutual interest is the achievement gap. A number of years ago, Connecticut decision makers were shocked to learn that the black/white achievement gap in Connecticut was the largest in the nation. Governor Malloy announced a major initiative to close the gap, but the data manifested no results. Still, the figures for students with disabilities are even more alarming. In 8th grade language arts for the 2017-18 school year, 11% of white students were at Level 1, the lowest level of performance, while 37% of black and Hispanic students were at level 1. In math, 20% of whites tested in Level 1 while the figures for blacks and Hispanics were at 60%. The figures for students with disabilities, in both categories, were 30% lower than those for black and Hispanic students.


We need a real, sustained, well-funded initiative to stop leaving students of color, Hispanic students and student with disabilities behind. Too often, Connecticut schools merely serve as babysitters, who push kids from grade to grade until they finally age out or graduate. And, graduation in many Connecticut school districts means very little. As Judge Moukawsher pointed out in the CCJEF v. Rell decision, poorer towns in Connecticut are routinely graduating kids who can neither read nor do math at a level that makes them ready for a job. In Bridgeport, 1.9% of the students were found to be college or career ready on the SAT, yet Bridgeport graduated 70% of its seniors. This is a scandal that Connecticut's governor, Department of Education and Legislature needs to deal with.

And then there is Raised Bill No. 359 before the Education Committee. The legislation


would bar the disaggregation of data by racial or ethnic group. The data in question is, "In addition to performance on state-wide mastery examinations, data relating to students shall include, but not be limited to, (i) the primary language spoken at the home of a student, (ii) student transcripts, (iii) student attendance and student mobility, (iv) reliable, valid assessments of a student's readiness to enter public school at the kindergarten level, and (v) data collected, if any, from the preschool experience survey." This is a rather peculiar way to make the achievement gap disappear. Just stop collecting data. Frankly, we find it outrageous.


SEEK-CT wants to work with the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus to bring excellent education to all students in Connecticut.


Raised Bill 850 and 7113

Testimony of SEEK-CT

Before Education Committee on Raised Bill 850 and 7113

February 22, 2019


Chairman Sanchez, Chairman McCrory and members of the Committee,


I am here today representing Special Education Equity for Kids in Connecticut (SEEK-CT), Connecticut's first organization of parents, providers, advocates and attorneys fighting for excellent education for the 70,000 Connecticut students with disabilities. We have found that teachers, administrators and academics have been invited to sit at the decision-making table when crucial questions of special education are decided; but parents and advocates for students with disabilities have been left without a seat. SEEK-CT seeks to remedy that oversight.

The Committee has two raised bills directing the Department of Education to conduct studies into education issues and Connecticut's public schools. We expect the Committee to add substance to these bills. To that end, SEEK-CT knows that children with disabilities are entitled to a high-quality education, utilizing special education and related services to help compensate for the effect of the disability. Special education is a long-term cost savings proposition. The highest level of independence that can be achieved by the greatest number of children with disabilities means substantially lower costs for government in the future for social services, health care, and corrections. Rather than looking at special education as an unfunded mandate on local board of education, we should be approaching special education as the investment for a healthy and economically viable Connecticut in the future. Moreover, special education is a way in which the civil rights of children with disabilities are vindicated.

To that end, SEEK-CT advocates the following:


Ample Funding of Local Special Education Programs


When Congress passed the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975, it promised to fund, with federal dollars, 40% of the special education costs expended by states and local boards of education. Except as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package, Congress has failed to meet this commitment, appropriating only about half of the promised amount. Connecticut funds local special education in two principal ways. First, Connecticut provides Education Cost Sharing Grants to towns, based on a variety of factors that result in relatively large grants per students in poor towns and smaller or no grants to higher-income towns. Somewhere over $2 billion is provided to districts in this way. Although no money is specifically earmarked for special education through ECS grants, the grants help fund special education programs, particularly in poorer communities and cities. Second, Connecticut provided excess cost reimbursement on a student-by-student basis for special education programs that cost more that 4.5 times the average per pupil cost in a district. The legislature has appropriated about $140 million for this, meaning that the reimbursement rate is at about 70% of the excess cost amount. Looked at from another angle, the appropriation for excess cost reimbursement works out to $2,000 per special education student.


These two funding streams are not the most rational ones to fund special education. Local school boards need to find the resources they need to meet the needs of students with disabilities. In particular, school districts need to have the resources to build capacity to provide the particularized instruction that some students with disabilities need. Excess Cost grants merely serve as some level of insurance against catastrophic costs. The state needs to find a way to permit local school districts to build areas of excellence, in literacy, in math, in autism, and particularly in social and emotional instruction. The current funding system provides no such opportunity.


Protecting School Staff from Retaliation


The process of developing Individualized Education Plans for students with disabilities relies, in theory, on the active and honest participation of all who know and work with the child. This means that teachers and related service providers need to be able to speak freely at Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meetings. All too often, school staff meet in advance and are told what they can and cannot say at meetings. Public school teachers and service providers commonly report that they are fearful of speaking out on behalf of children with disabilities because, if they do so, they will be reprimanded or punished by their supervisors. SEEK-CT has worked with Rep. Jeff Currey to develop legislation (H.B. 6822) to protect school staff from retaliation for speaking openly and honestly when planning the program and placement of a student with disabilities. The Committee has not, as yet, raised this bill. SEEK-CT urges the Committee to confront this issue so special education can work in the way it was intended.


Attached to this testimony is a report on a survey SEEK-CT conducted of both parents and teachers. The results are clear. Teachers believe they are not free to speak at PPT meetings, that they need to follow the administration's script, that they are censored, and that they will suffer retaliation if they speak freely and honestly about students with disabilities. Parents believe that they are provided with inaccurate information at PPT meetings, that teachers and other school staff say one thing outside the meeting and another thing in the meeting, and that they are cut off from the paraprofessionals who work with their children.

Hence, the need for legislative action on H.B. 6822 is clear.  


Achievement Gap


The Education Committee is very much aware of the yawning gap in educational performance between children of different races and of different economic groups in Connecticut. There is an even greater achievement gap between students with disabilities and their typical peers. Despite considerable sums spent on special education over the last 45 years, that gap has not narrowed and, indeed, may have expanded. While focusing on the racial and economic achievement gap, the Legislature needs to focus as well on the huge achievement gap based on disability. The vast majority of students with disabilities are capable of progressing on grade level provided they receive proper individualized instruction and support. Most have average or above average IQ scores. Often, students with disabilities can excel if provided the right combination of support and challenge. Indeed, the Supreme Court in the Endrew F. case was clear about the need for challenge, saying, "the goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives." Special education must not be a space of reduced challenge and reduced expectations.


Individualized Education Plans


Each student with a disability is provided with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that sets forth the promised services to the student to permit the student to make meaningful education progress over the next year. The IEP is intended to be developed in a collaborative process between the school and the parents. SEEK-CT is concerned about any legislative initiatives that undermine the individualized nature of the educational programs. 

 For that reason, SEEK-CT is concerned about the legislative initiative to create a Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative. The proposal is for the creation of an insurance company to provide predictability for school districts in their special education budgets. SEEK-CT opposes the establishment of a Cost Cooperative. If such a cooperative were set up, SEEK-CT would seek language ensuring that the insurance company would have no ability to question an IEP developed pursuant to the IDEA. Further, the administrative costs of the Cooperative would need to be new money and not funds recycled from limited special education budgets. And, all communications between a school district and the Cooperative relating to a student’s IEP would need to be available to the parent of the child.


Discipline


Due to their disabilities, students with IEPs disproportionately exhibit maladaptive behavior. Dealing with these behavior issues is a delicate matter. This has led to conflict between teachers and administrators, whereby teachers want to exclude disruptive students from their classrooms and administrators feel the need to return the student to his or her class. This conflict produced Raised Bill No. 7110, which is before the Committee and which we have addressed in separate testimony.  


Hearings/Burden of Proof


In prior sessions, the Education Committee considered legislation to switch the burden of proving an appropriate program from the school district to the parents and to expedite the due process hearing system. Both of these issues aroused considerable controversy. SEEK-CT is opposed to any change in the burden of proof. School districts have the affirmative obligation to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to a student with a disability.  The district possesses the evidence need to demonstrate that it offered an appropriate program. Forcing parents to prove a negative without having the evidentiary base is not appropriate.  


Observations/Independent Educational Evaluations


Parents and their private psychologists, educational consultants, and other service providers need to be able to observe the educational programs of their children in school in order to be full participants on their child’s team and in order to understand whether their child has an appropriate educational program. Many school districts unfairly block or limit such observations. While this is a matter that the State Board of Education directed the State Department of Education to address, the CSDE recently issued guidance which has made the situation worse. SEEK-CT plans to develop legislation to correct this problem.


Federal regulations provide the opportunity for children with disabilities to have Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs) at public expense when the parents disagree with a school evaluation. An expert evaluation is an essential instrument to ensure that a student with a disability has an appropriate program. Especially for parents of limited means, the IEE permits their participation in the special education process, by having the cost of such evaluation funded by the school district. Unfortunately, CSDE issued guidance on IEEs last year that has made such evaluations less available to children with disabilities. We need legislation to correct this and to keep the focus on the needs of children, rather than the interests of adults.


SEEK-CT seeks to work with the Education Committee to develop legislation relating to students with disabilities that will produce better educational opportunities for the 70,000 Connecticut children with IEPs.


Special Education Equity for Kids (SEEK-CT)

Retaliation and Censorship in Connecticut Public Schools

Prepared by Diane Willcutts

February 21, 2019


Overview


Connecticut parents, attorneys, and advocates have long heard from teachers and other school staff that they fear retaliation by administrators if they speak openly with parents about a child’s needs related to special education. SEEK-CT conducted two surveys—one for parents and one for school staff--in order to quantify those concerns.  

Links to the surveys were widely distributed through social media, web site postings, and/or email lists through SEEK-CT, the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC), SpEd Connecticut, Connecticut Families for Effective Autism Treatment (CTFEAT), and Decoding Dyslexia. Responses were collected between 2/13/2019 through 2/19/2019.


260 Connecticut parents and 96 school staff members completed the anonymous, online surveys. Respondents were from all over the state—in urban, suburban, and rural districts.


Of the 96 Connecticut school staff participating, approximately 34% were regular education teachers, 24% were special education teachers, 18% were related services professionals, 13% were paraprofessionals, and 11% identified themselves as “other” (often noting in the comments that they were administrators).

Note that all respondents were given the option to have their anonymous comments shared or to keep them completely private. Many parents and school staff stated that they needed to keep comments private, as they feared retaliation. For some items, there were many more comments than we included in this report.


Results – SCHOOL STAFF


  1. 30% of school staff say that their district has policies/practices that limit parent/teacher communication.


Comments

Unwritten practices that we cannot say a child needs services.

We are not supposed to tell parents to ask for a PPT meeting.

Unwritten policies that school staff cannot make recommendations to parents, that they should not suggest parents ask for testing.

Teachers cannot freely recommend a child receive “services.”


  1. 34% of school staff say that they were given training regarding what to say/what not to say to parents.


It is communicated verbally not to push for a PPT or to voice concerns.

It’s all verbal. We are told not to use student names in emails for fear of FERPA. 

Do not tell parents if services are not being given or inconsistent – do not tell parents that accommodations/modifications are ignored – NEVER recommend testing to a parent – do not tell parents if a child has been excluded from an activity. No training, just directives.

We are to instruct paras not to communicate directly, as they might “inadvertently say something incorrectly or misinterpret things”

As a paraprofessional, I am not allowed to talk to parents.

In CT teacher prep graduate program, the Special Education class instructs teachers to avoid saying that a student might need services. We are told that this is illegal and can cost us our license.


  1. 48% say that supervisors discourage them from speaking openly with parents regarding their child's needs related to special education.


One must repeat the party line always.  Also, we are told that administrators and downtown decide what proper placement for a student should be, not the team in the PPT.


We are always to recommend SRBI even if we have strong reasons to suspect a disability.

I have been accused of conspiring with the family against the district. . . We have pre-meetings and my administrator tries to sway me/guide me/influence me before meetings directly with parents. . . We have been admonished not to recommend specific services. 


(From a paraprofessional) The principal does not want us to talk to the parent. She only wants the teacher to talk to them even though I am the one who has more contact with the student than the teacher.


  1. 65% of school staff say that they would be likely to be reprimanded or punished if they openly speak with parents about what their child needs related to special education.


Yes, I have been put on warning that I could be written up if I spoke openly to a parent about concerns again.

I have heard of admins that have been let go or demoted based on making decisions that are “costing the district too much money.”

If administration found out, yes.

I would likely lose my contract.

Big time repercussions!!! Sped supervisors and building principal would be all over me. NEVER.

Especially done on record at PPT. Director could find it insubordinate. If I do speak with parent openly, I would do 1:1.


  1. 72% say that they are unable to make recommendations in a PPT that were not preauthorized by an administrator.


Not without being reprimanded.

I need pre-approval to increase special ed hours, add/change tutor support, and transitional placement.

Absolutely not!!!

Strategies are held prior to PPTs. It’s predetermination at its best.

We are required to get pre approval from admin for service increases, para support, and placement.

NEVER. Even as assistant principal, if a child needed serious resources, I couldn’t say it. All recommendations are usually discussed prior to PPT.  

Everything has to be OK’d by the director prior to the PPT. Services are decided and dictated prior to the PPT.


  1. 35% of school staff say that administrators discourage them from referring students to special education.  


Referral to PPT is discouraged

Yes, they stay in SRBI process for years.

I considered making a referral for evaluation last year for a student at TIER 2 but backed down because I was afraid of retribution.

They want tons of data over long periods of time before a PPT is called.

We are not allowed to refer students until they are 7 years of age. It is dictated that the students should stay in RTI support.


  1. 38% of school staff say that there are pre-PPT meetings where they are coached regarding what they can/cannot say.


Roles are assigned and rehearsed. All information is shared, decisions are made, so by the time the PPT takes place, it’s all a sham and done deal.

We go through what will be said and what the recommendations will be and to not suggest anything else.

At the PPT, recommendations are made, but these recommendations have already been discussed, without a family present.  

There are always pre-PPT meetings and decisions are made there. Then the PPT sounds like all decisions were made at the table there and then.

Yes. Whomever is chairing the PPT directs everything. We are told not to raise new issues not previously discussed.


The sped team members review everything and rehearse what will happen, parents totally out of the loop, ESPECIALLY non-English speaking and minority parents. By the real PPT meeting, it’s all a done deal.


  1. 33% of school staff say they are concerned that, if they make recommendations in a PPT that were not pre-authorized by an administrator, they could be fired. Of those who said no, many reported that they would be likely to be reprimanded, even if not fired. 


Fired, no, but there would be a price to pay even for building administrators to speak their mind.

Verbal warnings have been given to teachers.

No, but I could be reprimanded.

Not fired but certainly spoken to or even written up with something that goes in personnel file.

Not fired but reprimanded, especially if it’s going to cost the district money.

I’ve seen it happen, although school administrators make other excuses or pressure the person to resign before they have to terminate.


Results – PARENTS

  1. 48% of parents say that a school staff member has told them that their child was having difficulties but said that this had to be "off-the-record."


The social worker told me that she wasn’t allowed to suggest the placement we both thought was best for my son, due to the principal telling her to stay quiet.

She was afraid of being fired. Eventually she was.

They were worried about getting reprimanded.


It was the school principal actually and he simply told me “I think your son should be tested for learning disabilities and you should request it in writing, but I’m not supposed to tell you that or I could lose my job.”

The teacher told me that they suspected that my daughter had dyslexia and ADHD but that they could not legally tell me this. But said that I should ask the school to have my daughter tested. But I should not tell the school that the teacher told me of her suspicions.

The teacher specifically told me they would face retaliation if the school knew I was told this information.  


  1. 38% of parents said a school staff member had told them to request something from the school (e.g., assessment, service, para, etc.) but said that s/he could be fired for telling them that. (Note that many “no” respondents said that staff had expressed concern about being reprimanded, not being fired.)


They have told me what to request and said “I can’t request it.” The implication was that they would get in trouble. The word “fired” was never overtly used.

They said they are not allowed to share info. They are afraid they will lose their jobs and are silent at PPTs.

The school principal told me exactly that, I should request testing for possible learning disabilities but that he could be fired for telling me that. Fortunately, he was about to retire.

Teacher told me to request a 1:1 paraprofessional. But told me to keep secret as the School Administration and the new Director of Pupil Services have a policy that prohibits teachers from making recommendations for services.  

The teacher called me at 10 p.m. and stated I should challenge the school and push for special education for my son. She asked that I not mention that she called me as she could lose her job.


  1. 22% of parents said that a school staff member said that they should hire an attorney or advocate and asked them not to tell anyone s/he said that.


I was told outside of the schools setting that if I wanted anything done the right way that I needed an attorney or advocate.

Principal told us it would be in our best interest to get an advocate.

Staff pulled us aside after a PPT and quietly suggested we hire an advocate.

We were secretly given a couple names of attorneys by two teachers. I know they were scared to give us information but they know my child needed services but was denied by the new director.  

Yes – the teacher even provided names of attorneys but begged me to keep quiet for fear of being fired.


  1. 64% of parents of children with paraprofessionals say that the para is not permitted to speak with them directly.  


Paras at public schools are absolutely not allowed to speak to us. I have been told on many occasions by almost all of our paras that they were not allowed to say anything. They were very careful to preface their conversations with a warning to us not to say anything. 


I think the paras should absolutely be able to talk to the parents. They are the one constant that is with your child the whole school day.


We have been told that it is district policy that the paras have no conversations with parents about the student and communications be directed through the teacher.


They don’t allow the paras to participate in meetings or otherwise communicate with us, which is frustrating. They have the most direct interaction with our son throughout the day, and we wish they did allow them to be a true part of our team.


It is very important to talk to the para. They are the person who spends the whole day with your child. Their input is very important. In my case, I was told it was the union rep that said not to talk to the parent.


It would be useful if I could since his paras are the ones who spend the most time with him. One of his paras left his school. . . we had a nice talk and he told me he could now speak to me freely since he was no longer at the school and raised his concerns with the way my son’s program is set up.


The principal of our school prohibits paras from talking to parents, but some will discuss with you on the condition of anonymity.


  1. 48% of parents say school staff tell them one thing outside of the PPT but say something else in the PPT.


Most of the time there is a service or something the teachers think should be implemented and they sometimes say the opposite at the PPT or don’t share at all.


The teachers don’t speak up at the PPT. I know they are afraid of the new director.


They are influenced by the director of student services. When you walk into a PPT AFTER everyone has already gathered. . . they have already come to the conclusion before the meeting began. . . Their jobs are obviously at risk – whether it is an implicit or explicit threat – or we have unethical adults teaching our children, or both.


She just stays quiet in the PPT when she disagrees with school administration, tells us what to say before meetings.

Absolutely. Teachers and service providers do not share with PPT advice, concerns, or suggested supports that they share with me outside of PPT.


The school staff, both the classroom teacher and sped teacher, occasionally admitted to me outside of the PPT that my child was not making progress or was struggling with something, but they NEVER said it in the PPT.


A few tell me things then remain silent on the issue in the PPT. . . I will say I observed something, my daughter told me this happened, or I feel she needs this. I know they can be fired for what they tell me and I want to avoid that.



  1. 70% of parents say that school staff do not speak with them openly and honestly about their child's needs.


Not in a PPT.


The administrator is threatening/overbearing, they are first/second year new staff afraid of losing their jobs.

Very guarded and worried about jeopardizing their own job.


No, I think for years admin has told the school team to not speak to me or give me any info.


No, we often feel like they are more protective of potential liabilities or putting them/the school at risk in how they communicate with us.


They often “fluff” progress and like to say how much of a joy our child is in class and how he is eager to please, without addressing inadequate. . . progress. If we question test results, they back peddle (sic) and stumble and try to change the conversation.


  1. 78% say they feel like school staff misrepresent their child's progress.


He is being pushed through the curriculum as if he is making significant progress. He struggles with what is considered “mastered skills” quite significantly.


They totally lie about progress.


Because they know we’re requesting outplacement and they try to insist he’s doing great.

They pass him, make excuses, don’t push him academically. . . it is terrible.


They make it seem like he is doing well, can’t provide the proof and don’t want to say that he truly has a problem.

They say she’s making progress but they can’t provide evidence of the progress, goals, and objectives she “mastered” repeat year to year, and they pretend she has skills she does not have.

I feel like they do a lot of work for him.


ALL THE TIME. Data, scoring, and measurements have always been very subjective and the only response to my questions has been, “she’s making great progress.”


They report great progress, but we’re unable to replicate at home.


He struggles every night with homework, lots of redoing his work, but somehow miraculously comes home with 100%, not even one eraser mark on tests, and all 4s on his report card. At his annual review, they said he mastered every goal on his IEP, which he absolutely has not.


Tells me my child is reading grade level, when it’s obvious my child isn’t.

The reports are twisted and biased and things are said in such a way that it makes my child look like he is able to succeed but it is because the standards are set so low.


Conclusion


Parents and school staff indicate that boards of education discourage, reprimand, and punish staff from communicating openly with parents about their children’s needs related to special education. This is in violation of the Connecticut Code of Professional Responsibility for Educators, codified in Section 10-145d-400a of the Connecticut regulations, which prohibits knowingly misrepresenting facts or making false statements and which requires that educators encourage parental participation in the education process.  

Some may think that Boards of Education are perhaps justified in silencing teachers, as this may be a way (albeit an illegal and unethical way) to stem costs. This is a common misunderstanding. In fact, research indicates that earlier intervention can save districts money in the long run. Many students whose needs are neglected in the early grades end up requiring significantly more expensive private placements later on.  


To address the problems identified in this survey, SEEK-CT worked with Representative Jeff Currey to develop HB-6822, An Act Concerning the Protection of School Personnel in Communications Related to Special Education. We hope that legislators will take steps to prohibit Boards of Education from silencing and retaliating against teachers and other school staff.  


For more information about this survey, please contact Diane Willcutts at (860) 992-5874 or diane.willcutts@gmail.com or Andrew Feinstein at (860-969-0700) or afeinstein@edlawct.com.


Raised Bill 7110

Testimony of SEEK-CT

Before Education Committee on Raised Bill 7110

February 22, 2019


Chairman Sanchez, Chairman McCrory and members of the Committee,


I am here today representing Special Education Equity for Kids in Connecticut (SEEK-CT), Connecticut's first organization of parents, providers, advocates and attorneys fighting for excellent education for the 70,000 Connecticut students with disabilities. We have found that teachers, administrators and academics have been invited to sit at the decision-making table when crucial questions of special education are decided; but parents and advocates for students with disabilities have been left without a seat. SEEK-CT seeks to remedy that oversight.

SEEK-CT strongly opposed Public Act 18-89, which was the precursor of Raised Bill 7110. Since Governor Malloy's veto of that legislation, a task force has worked to make the bill more palatable. From our point of view, the bill, as raised, fails to remedy the problems we found with P.A. 18-89 last year.  


As a preliminary matter, we are very sympathetic to the plight of teachers who have to deal with violent, disruptive and oppositional students. Teachers lack the time, the expertise, and the support they need to deal with these students. Sending particularly disruptive students to the office, only to have them returned to class nearly immediately, serves no one. Schools need psychologists, social workers and behaviorists who are trained and assigned to work with these students. We note that, perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom, a majority of these kids are not high school males. They come in all ages and in both genders. Raised Bill 7110 fails to address the central underlying issue.


With that in mind, we can support Raised Bill 7110 if the committee adds four amendments, as follows:

1.  We need clear standards on when a teacher can clear the classroom or send a student to the office. Some teacher do it frequently, others not at all. We propose that a teacher can clear the classroom or send a student to the office when (1) the student actually causes physical injury to another person in the classroom; (2) the student threatens and has the means to carry out a threat of serious physical injury to another person in the classroom; (3) the student is so verbally or physically disruptive to the class that learning is impossible; (4) the Student's behavior plan, approved by the PPT, specified removal from the classroom for certain defined behaviors; and (5) less restrictive interventions have proven ineffective in stopping the imminent danger or the disruption. Each such incident needs to be documented, with a copy of the incident report sent to the parents within 24 hours of the event. C.G.S. 10-233b is the existing law on removing students from class. It needs to be revised consistent with these provisions.


2. Any student who have been the cause of a classroom clearing or have been sent to the office twice in any 90-day period must be referred to a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting.  If the student has previously been designated as eligible for special education, the PPT needs to meet to determine whether the existing behavior plan is appropriate and whether the student has the aids and supports necessary to maintain appropriate classroom behavior.  If the student has not been previously determined eligible for special education, the student needs to be fully evaluated for special education.  The teacher or other school staff member who was involved in the violent or disruptive incident needs to attend the PPT meeting.


3.  Teachers and other school staff need to be protected against all forms of reprisal for 

speaking freely and honestly about the students they work with.  Raised Bill 7110 does rightly

contain two protections against retaliation: one for "any individual who reports or assists in the investigation of a disruptive or injurious incident." And another for "any teacher who requests a meeting." These protections do not go far enough. The teacher or other individual working with the child needs to be permitted to speak freely both in meeting and to parents without fear of reprisal. This concept is contained in H.B. 6822, which we urge the Committee to hold hearings on in the near future.  In the context of this legislation, however, it is vital that the staff working with the student have the ability to speak freely and honestly about the student, without fear of reprisal or retaliation.


4.  Students of color and Hispanic students are disproportionately subject to discipline in Connecticut schools.  Although no data now exists on students removed from the classroom, we know from the suspension and expulsion figures that discipline is disproportionately applied.  We propose that, on a semester by semester basis, school districts report data on students removed from the classroom, broken down by race and ethnicity.  If the number of students of color or Hispanic students removed from the classroom is disproportionate, defined as more than 30% higher than their percentage in the school population, the State Department of Education would need to implement a program of remediation in the school district.  The program of remediation would include investigation of causes of disproportional discipline, training of staff, and independent monitoring of future discipline.


We would be pleased to work with this committee to develop a piece of legislation which addresses the serious needs of overwhelmed teachers and protects the rights of students with disabilities. 


Raised Bill 851

Testimony of SEEK-CT

Before Education Committee on Raised Bill 851

February 22, 2019


Chairman Sanchez, Chairman McCrory and members of the Committee,


SEEK-CT strongly opposes, and frankly cannot understand the justification for Raised Bill No. 851, which prohibits the disaggregation of student data by ethnic subgroups in the public school information system. Connecticut's public education system is one of the most segregated in the nation. And, the achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students, as well as between typical students and students with disabilities, is appalling. Moreover, there is a major national issue about the disproportionality of special education designation and, particularly, discipline, where black males are subject to school discipline at a far higher rate that white students.


Any bar on disaggregation of data will prevent policy makers from understanding these gaps. Only by understanding the inequalities can legislators and others fashion remedies. Hiding the information can only serve to hide the problem.  


I am here today representing Special Education Equity for Kids in Connecticut (SEEK-CT), Connecticut's first organization of parents, providers, advocates and attorneys fighting for excellent education for the 70,000 Connecticut students with disabilities. We have found that teachers, administrators and academics have been invited to sit at the decision-making table when crucial questions of special education are decided; but parents and advocates for students with disabilities have been left without a seat. SEEK-CT seeks to remedy that oversight.

SEEK-CT asks the Education Committee to reject Raised Bill 851.


Restraint & Seclusion

Testimony of SEEK-CT

Before Committee on Children on R.B. 7214 and R.B. 7215

March 6, 2019


Chairwoman Linehan, Chairwoman Abrams and members of the Committee,


I am here today representing Special Education Equity for Kids in Connecticut (SEEK-CT), Connecticut's first organization of parents, providers, advocates and attorneys fighting for excellent education for the 70,000 Connecticut students with disabilities. We have found that teachers, administrators and academics have been invited to sit at the decision-making table when crucial questions of special education are decided; but parents and advocates for students with disabilities have been left without a seat. SEEK-CT seeks to remedy that oversight.

The Committee has in front of it two bills of particular concern to students with disabilities and their families. Raised Bill No. 7214 amends the 2015 law limiting restraint and seclusion of children in Connecticut schools. The bill makes three changes in the existing law. First, it precludes the use of physical restraint in situations in which there is medical danger to the student. Second, verbal and written notification procedures are clarified. Third, the monitoring of a student in restraint or seclusion is tightened. SEEK-CT is generally in support of these changes, although we have a number of concerns.


First, email notification to parents of restraint and seclusion should occur on the day it occurs, not three business days later. There is simply no justification for the delay.  


Second, the underlying law, C.G.S. 10-236b needs further clarification. Section (d)(3) states that seclusion shall not be used as a planned intervention under a child's IEP or behavior plan. Yet, section (j)(1)(B) states that a board of education shall "specify whether the use of seclusion was in accordance with an individualized education program." This is a contradiction. In our view, seclusion should never be part of an IEP or behavior plan, because such plans are focused on improving a child's functional performance. Seclusion never produces a long-term beneficial effect.

Third, on the topic of training, current law subsection (i) states that no school employee can restrain or seclude a student unless they have proper training pursuant to the requirements set forth in subsection (o).  Subsection (o) requires the school board to provide training to members of the crisis intervention team but makes training of teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, or other school employees who have direct contact with the student optional as determined by the principal.  Yet, subsection (m) of Raised Bill 7214 says that a school employee, including a paraprofessional, will continuously monitor a student who is physically restrained or involuntarily placed in seclusion. Any employee who is monitoring a student in restraint or seclusion needs to be properly trained pursuant to the requirements of subsection (o).


Raised Bill No. 7215 makes very significant changes to Connecticut's bullying law. The definition is substantially changed. No longer is bullying only present if it is student to student and repeated. Instead, bullying includes adult to student harassment and includes any aggressive behavior or intentional harm-doing, whether repeated or a single incident. This definitional change is, in the opinion of SEEK-CT, must needed.  

The bill would substantially enhance the responsibility of school districts to create a safe school climate policy, utilizing model school climate standards and would require the State Department of Education to develop training material and a model safe school climate policy.


SEEK-CT does have a number of serious concerns with this bill. Students with disabilities are, overwhelmingly, both the students who are the victims of bullying and are the perpetrators of bullying. The legislation really has two facets. One facet is to mandate significant efforts to create a safe school climate in each school district through school plans and Department of Education guidance and oversight. SEEK-CT supports efforts in that regard.  


The other facet is the identification and processing of acts of aggressive behavior or intentional harm-doing. We have observed serious variability in this regard. On the one hand, we see school administrators refusing to identify clear instances of bullying as such to avoid the paperwork and data reporting that comes with identifying acts of bullying. On the other hand, we have seen school administrators unfairly punish students with disabilities for activities that are clear manifestations of their disabilities. We think that both the current legislation and the proposed bill go too far in seeking to punish the bully and do far too little to provide restorative justice and education to both the perpetrator and the victim.


Indeed, we are concerned that the social and emotional skills assessment will be used against students with disabilities. The way the assessment is described on lines 331-340, it is an individual evaluation. As such it should be implemented only with parental consent. Further, and perhaps most disturbing, the bill provides for no interventions as a result of this assessment. If a child is seriously deficient in intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies or in social and emotional learning competencies, the school district has the obligation to provide individualized instruction to remedy the deficit.


We are also opposed to the broad immunities offered in this bill. Parents frequently complain about the lack of accountability of school personnel. Immunizing school personnel from liability for any of their actions in this area is a way to frustrate any accountability.


Finally, we are concerned about the dangers to student confidentiality that this legislation may produce. Already, far too much confidential (and often erroneous) information flies around social media when an instance of bullying occurs. This legislation appears to make more information available, to the detriment, often, of a student with a disability.


SEEK-CT offers to work with the committee in an effort to perfect this bill.