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Legislation Introduced to Change Education Plan Process for Students with Disabilities

Date Posted: Monday, February 2nd, 2015
Categories:  Department of Justice News

 Lawmakers, parents, educators, and advocates look to improve education planning for students with disabilities

Representatives of the IEP Improvement Task Force at the press conference announcing SB 33 (left to right): Diane Eastburn - Kent County Parent Representative, Patricia Maichle - Director, Developmental Disabilities Council, Rep. Debra Heffernan, Attorney General Matt Denn – Task Force Chair, Sen. Nicole Poore, Dafne Carnright - Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens, Bill Doolittle – DE PTA President-Elect.

Representatives of the IEP Improvement Task Force at the press conference announcing SB 33 (left to right): Diane Eastburn – Kent County Parent Representative, Patricia Maichle – Director, Developmental Disabilities Council, Rep. Debra Heffernan, Attorney General Matt Denn – Task Force Chair, Sen. Nicole Poore, Dafne Carnright – Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens, Bill Doolittle – DE PTA President-Elect.

WILMINGTON – Senators Nicole Poore and David Lawson, Representatives Debra Heffernan, Joseph Miro, and Deborah Hudson, and Attorney General Matt Denn have announced legislation aimed to improve the education of students with special needs, making changes to their educational planning process and providing better resources for their families.

Senate Bill 33 implements the recommendations of the IEP Improvement Task Force, a group of educators, advocates and parents created by the General Assembly to study Delaware’s process for creating the individualized education programs to which these students are entitled by federal law and how to make the process less adversarial and intimidating for parents.

“One of the criticisms often levied against education policy is that bureaucrats approach everything from a one-size-fits-all mindset – that we don’t consider the individual needs of students or the individual talents of their teachers or paraprofessionals when we make laws. That we don’t listen to parents, said Senator Nicole Poore, the lead sponsor of SB 33. “This legislation answers all of those critiques. This brings schools to the table for a conversation about what’s right for a particular student, and it holds all our public schools, including charters, accountable for making that happen. The result of this legislation will be more informed parents, educators who are freer to make recommendations and observations during the IEP process and most importantly, children who get an educational experience that’s right for them.”

Task Force recommendations included in Senate Bill 33, introduced Jan. 29, are designed to:

1. Provide more detailed and helpful information to parents about their rights and resources in the IEP process;

2. Solicit the input of parents and children regarding the IEP process before IEP meetings occur;

3. Provide advance notice to parents and children of documents that will be discussed at IEP meetings;

4. Require the facilitation of parent councils to provide peer support for the parents of students with disabilities;

5. Ensure that teachers, staff, and contract employees do not suffer retaliation for offering their candid opinions during the IEP process;

6. Ensure that employment planning during the IEP process is consistent with Delaware’s employment first policy;

7. Require a robust annual survey of parents and children to ensure that school districts and charter schools are adhering to state and federal law with respect to the IEP process;

8. Ensure that charter schools are attentive to their responsibilities and available resources with respect to students with disabilities;

9. Require that the Department of Education report to the General Assembly on the status of and possible alternatives to the IEP Plus computer system, which has been an impediment to the preparation of IEPs by teachers, staff, and contractors.

“I’m happy to have been a member of the IEP Improvement Task Force,” said Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South. “Now the focus needs to shift to the more important task of IEP implementation with high expectations and improving outcomes for Delaware students with special needs. This bill will help move us in the right direction and ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed.”

“This is a bipartisan initiative,” House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson said. “Legislators from both parties and both chambers are working together to improve the IEP process because we all recognize the key role it can potentially play in improving student performance.”

“As a former educator, I know the challenges of addressing the needs of each individual student,” said bill co-sponsor, State Rep. Joe Miro. “These reforms will give the parents a more direct role and a louder voice in the IEP process, better ensuring that their children are receiving what they require.”

“I applaud the effort of the committee members who were all truly concerned about making the IEP process better,” said Senator David Lawson. “I think the biggest thing to come out of it is the need for standardization in the programs, getting everybody on the same page. And we need to make sure that parents are, at all times, kept aware of exactly what’s going on and that they’re not intimidated by the IEP process.”

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Attorney General Matt Denn and all of the representatives that were part of making sure that we were able to have our voices heard as parents,” said Diane Eastburn, a parent from Kent County who served on the Task Force. “To be able to be a part of a system that most people think is broken, and to actually be able to put pieces together and come up with a body of work that I think every parent who has a child with a special need will be able to sit back when this gets passed and say ‘my life is a little easier today.’”

“This legislation will improve the ability of parents and students to have input and assert themselves in the IEP process,” said Attorney General Matt Denn, who participated in the task force as Lieutenant Governor as part of his focus on children with disabilities. “Too many parents are unprepared to advocate effectively for their children; they need to know what their rights are, what services will benefit their child, and have the ability to include their own, and their child’s goals in the IEP.”

The final report of the task force, which includes recommendations beyond those to be accomplished through SB 33, can be found at http://ltgov.delaware.gov/taskforces/ieptf/IEP_Task_Force_Report_Final.pdf

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