Tag Archives: James Baron

Barnstable Special Education Parent Advisory Council to Meet on 10/18/10

The Barnstable Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) will meet on October 18, 2010 from 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM at the Barnstable High School (Room 1202), 744 West Main St., Hyannis. For more information, please contact: 774-994-0713, 508-246-0467, or BarnstableSEPAC@comcast.net.

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal disputes.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com for more information.

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Who Can Diagnosis Autism Spectrum Disorder?

During my presentation on Special Education Law and Asperger’s Syndrome at yesterday’s AANE conference, a very interesting question arose.  An attendee asked who can diagnosis a disability.  That question seems simple enough, but the answer is not so simple.

The reason he asked the question was that his IEP Team told him that the school system is not able to diagnose a disability – they claimed that it is up to the parents to get that diagnosis privately.  I see this often at Team meetings.  In general, it is not true.  The evaluation that the school system performs will likely include a psychological evaluation, an educational evaluation, input from parents and teachers, and possibly a medical evaluation by a physician (at school expense!).

The school system is perfectly capable of diagnosing a learning disability.  On the other hand, it is in no position to diagnosis a physical ailment that only a physician can diagnose.  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is in between.  According to IDEA, “Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.”  34 C.F.R. 308(c)(1)(i). A developmental disability is generally defined as a mental or physical impairment identified prior to age 18.  A qualified psychologist – and one would assume that a school psychologist is qualified – should be able to diagnose autism.

What’s even more interesting, and beneficial to parents when the school is refusing to diagnose autism, is 34 C.F.R. 308(c)(1)(iii): “A child who manifests the characteristics of autism after age three could be identified as having autism if the criteria in paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this section are satisfied.” So, even if the child has not been formally diagnosed with autism – regardless of who should have done the diagnosis – if the child “manifests the characteristics of autism,” the Team could then identify the child as having autism, and treat him or her as such.

I would be very interested to get feedback from readers of this blog regarding your own experiences.  Please take 30 seconds to respond to this poll:

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

Asperger’s Association Conference

I had a wonderful time today speaking at the Asperger’s Association of New England (AANE) conference in Marlboro.  The subject of my presentation was Special Education Law and Asperger’s.  I covered the basics of IEP’s and 504’s, and then discussed how those apply to students with Asperger’s syndrome.  We also talked about the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and how they can be applied to students with disabilities, particularly those with Asperger’s Syndrome and others who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), to build an argument for appropriate services from the school system.  The audience was quite large, very engaging, and asked excellent questions.  I will try to provide more details about the content in upcoming blogs.

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

Greater Waltham Arc (GWArc) 40th Annual Harvest Breakfast

The Greater Waltham Arc will be hosting its 40th annual Harvest Breakfast on Sunday, October 24, 2010 from 8:00 AM to 12:00 noon. GWArc assists individuals with developmental disabilities in Waltham and surrounding areas.  The Breakfast will be held at the Doubletree Guest Suites, 550 Winter Street in Waltham. Admission is $12.00 for children under $12.00, $17.00 for Seniors and Adults with Special Needs, and $24.00 for adults. I will be volunteering at the Breakfast from 10:00 AM to 12:00 noon, so if you do attend, please be sure to introduce yourself to me.

Tickets are available through my office. I am also happy to offer a $5 discount for any K-12 student with special needs.

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

DESE Released Its Summary of MCAS Results; Media Reports Overlooked Some Troubling Numbers

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has released its annual summary of MCAS results for the exams taken last spring.  The media reports that I have read all seem to have missed some of the most important, and disturbing, numbers:

1.  For grade 4 English Language Arts, results remained stagnant.  54% of grade 4 students scored proficient or higher.  That number is unchanged from 2009, and is still below the 56% who scored proficient or higher in 2007.  Given that three years have passed, I do not view this as much progress.

2.  For grade 4 Mathematics, results also remained stagnant.  48% of grade 4 students scored proficient or higher – the same number as in 2009, and 2007.  We have shown no progress in grade 4 mathematics in three years.

3.  For grade 5 English Language Arts, results remained stagnant at 63%.  In fact, the number has been 63% in 2010, 2009, and 2007.   Stagnation is not progress.

4.  For grade 5 Mathematics, results rose a whopping 1% since 2009, from 54% to 55%.

5.  For grade 8 English Language Arts, results remained stagnant at 78% from 2009 to 2010.

6.  For grade 10 English Language Arts, the number scoring proficient or higher declined from 79% to 78% over the past year.

7.  For grade 10 Mathematics, the number scoring proficient or higher remained stagnant at 75% over the past year.

8.  For all racial subgroups in grades 8 and 10, the number scoring proficient or higher either remained stagnant or declined.

9.  Results for students with disabilities showed regression by 4% in English Language Arts in both grades 8 and 10.

10.  Results for students with disabilities showed regression by 1% in Mathematics in grade 10.

I have never been a big fan of MCAS, especially in the Commonwealth’s use of MCAS as a graduation requirement.  These results do nothing to change my opinion.

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

Timberlane Regional School District in NH Does Away with Midterms and Finals

This seems like such a great idea, but I have never heard of this being done before.  The Timberlane Regional School District in New Hampshire has decided, effective immediately, that there will no longer be any midterm or final exams within the school district.  They are doing this for the purpose of adding eight additional teaching days during the year.  As long as students are still expected to learn the same material, and can prove to the teacher that they have indeed mastered the material as expected, I really like this idea of adding additional teaching time to the year, and removing high stress exams.  This is particularly important for special education students, and students who may have mastered the material, but get so anxious about exams that they don’t test well.

Comparing Massachusetts to New Hampshire, lately it seems that New Hampshire is one step ahead of Massachusetts in terms of doing the right thing for the education of its students.  One other important area where New Hampshire has implemented a policy that I consider to be far better than a similar policy in Massachusetts is in regard to the implementation of NCLB (No Child Left Behind).  NCLB requires testing of students to ensure that the school system is providing a proper education for the students.  It does not require the passing of high-stakes exams as a requirement for a high school diploma.  Massachusetts, for some reason, has twisted NCLB such that the required testing has become a requirement for a high school diploma (MCAS).  New Hampshire has made it very clear that it has no plans to implement such a high-stakes approach to the NCLB requirement.

So why did I bring up the issue of MCAS in Massachusetts?  In Massachusetts, schools teach to the test so much, because of the high stakes aspect of MCAS, that they unfortunately don’t have enough time to teach much else.  Maybe that is an oversimplification, but I hear over and over from both teachers and students how frustrating it is that so many days are dedicated to the MCAS material rather than to other useful materials that students really should learn.  Given the Massachusetts approach, the opportunity to add 8 additional teaching days – perhaps unrelated to MCAS – sounds like a wonderful idea.  Students in Massachusetts have enough stress as it is.  As long as there is a way to ensure proper evaluation of students, I like what Timberlane is doing, and wish that Massachusetts would implement a similar policy.

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

MA House Passes Bill Requiring Insurance Companies to Cover Services for Children with Autism

The Massachusetts House has passed a bill requiring insurance companies to cover services for children with autism. These covered services would include ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis). This is not yet law, though, because the Senate will need to pass its version of the bill, and differences between the two versions will need to be hashed out, and then the Governor would need to sign it into law, so it still has a way to go.

Insurance companies, of course, oppose this bill. They claim it will only increase the cost of insurance coverage. Using that reasoning, though, why not just eliminate all health coverage? Isn’t autism a health-related issue? If not, then what is it? I used to work for an insurance company, and I can tell you that they almost universally oppose any type of mandated coverage. Back when President Clinton was trying to get universal health coverage passed, I recall the insurance company I worked for convening meetings of all company employees (thousands), strongly requesting that all employees write to their Senators and Representatives opposing such health coverage.

Insurance companies claim the cost of covering autism will increase annual costs by somewhere between $14 and $30 per insured. Advocates of the bill claim the annual cost would only be about $10 per year. Either way, I believe that this change is a good change, properly recognizing that autism is a health issue, and that all families regardless of income should be able to treat this disorder.

The bill is far from perfect, but it is better than nothing. Some of the problematic aspects of the bill are:

1. Insurance companies will be able to drop autism coverage for three years if the company’s overall insurance costs rise by more than 1% a year. To me, that seems to give insurance companies incentive to be very liberal with their coverage during the first year, for the sole purpose of being exempted from coverage for the next three years.

2. Insurance companies will be exempt from paying for in school services. I foresee strong battles developing among insurance companies, schools, and parents. Insurance companies will be claiming that various services are appropriate only for schools to administer; schools will be claiming that those same services are not really education related, and should be covered by health insurance companies; parents will be caught in the middle fighting both schools and insurance companies.

3. Small to medium-sized companies that offer health insurance to their employees would be disproportionately affected by this new mandate, because large companies are not subject to such insurance mandates.

By the way, to see a report created by my daughter regarding autism, check out this video: http://www.lawbaron.com/michs-messages.html

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com

Portfolio High School Testing – Good or Bad?

Many states with high stakes exit exams, such as Massachusetts with its MCAS test, offer an alternative method of testing for certain special education students.  This alternative testing usually involves schools helping students to create a portfolio to be submitted to the state education department.  The portfolio method is used to help students who cannot properly show what they have learned via a traditional pencil and paper test.  In theory, it sounds like a fair option.  The reality may be much different, though.

According to “Disability Scoop,” Virginia has decided to eliminate its alternative portfolio testing.  Why?  Disability Scoop states that the alternative method was “overused and produces too many positive results… ”  (Shawn Heasley, “Concerns Prompt End to ‘Alternative’  Portfolio Test, April 23, 2010, http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2010/04/23/virginia-portfolio-test/7781/).

Massachusetts has just the opposite problem.  In Massachusetts, children fail what is referred to as MCAS-Alt at an alarmingly high rate.  The following information combines grades 10, 11 and 12.  In 2009, there were 909 English Language Arts portfolios submitted, yet only 5 (0.5%) earned Needs Improvement or higher (the minimum eligible for graduation).  Similarly, out of 918 Mathematics portfolios, only 6 (0.6%) earned Needs Improvement or higher.  Finally, in Science and Technology, out of 951 submissions, only 14 (1.5%) earned Needs Improvement or higher.  There are no numbers to indicate how many, if any, “portfolio” students graduated.  These and more statistics can be found in a publication of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education called “2009 MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt): State Summary of Participation and Performance.”  This report is available at the following URL: http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/alt/09statesum.pdf.

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

Minnesota Twins New Ballpark Sets New Standard for Accessibility

As a baseball fan, and as a lawyer representing children with disabilities, I was very interested in a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper (“Target Field rates ‘A’ for accessibility,” April 19, Kevin Duchschere, http://goo.gl/YCPQ).  The Minnesota Twins new ballpark, Target Field, appears to have set a very high standard for handicapped accessibility.  The article brings up issues which most non-handicapped people never think about.  For example, people in wheelchairs often never see home runs land, because the people in front of them usually jump up and block their views.  Likewise, counters at concession stands, which are usually a good height for people who can stand, are usually too high for people in wheelchairs.  And did you ever notice that the microphone and speakers in the ticket-selling booths are usually blocking the employee’s mouth, so anyone who needs to read lips cannot do so?  The article points out many accessibility features designed to address these issues, such as:

“•All concession counters are 8 inches lower than usual, 34 inches high, to help customers in wheelchairs and shorter people. Many include signs in Braille or large print for sight-impaired fans.

•There are two elevators, not one, at Target Field’s rail station. That was done to make sure fans in wheelchairs coming in from the Northstar commuter line, which runs below the ballpark, won’t be stranded if a single elevator breaks down.

•Speaker boxes at ticket windows were placed below the agent’s mouth so fans who are deaf can read their lips. Ticket windows have amplification devices that agents can use to transmit to a buyer’s hearing aid.

•Fans who are hard of hearing can read the ballpark announcer’s messages on captioning boards along the foul lines overlooking left and right field. Assisted listening devices to transmit ballpark audio are available for free.

•Curb cuts that are supposed to be 3 feet wide are double that in places near the ballpark so wheelchair users don’t have to fight with pedestrians to cross the street.”

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: www.lawbaron.com.

Foxboro Proposes Changes to Comply with State Observation Law – But Do They Comply?

The Foxboro school committee has proposed some changes to its policies on classroom observations.  These changes are intended to comply with a new law providing much more liberal access for parents and their representatives to observe special education classrooms.  Actually, the law is not so new – it was passed nearly two years ago.  The proposed changes, as reported by The Sun Chronicle, include the following:

  1. A requirement that the observer not interfere with classroom proceedings.
  2. A requirement that the observer be there to observe the suitability of a program given the child’s needs, and not to be there to evaluate a teacher’s ability.
  3. A parent must sign a release for a representative to observe.
  4. A request may be denied for specified reasons.

For the complete article, go to this URL: http://www.thesunchronicle.com/articles/2010/04/20/news/7216730.txt

What I find interesting in this article is its pro-school and anti-parent slant.  The actual law is much more parent-friendly. It was passed because of unreasonable observation restrictions that were placed by schools on parents and their representatives.  The actual wording of Chapter 363 of the Acts of 2008 is as follows:

“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.”

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.