Delaware receives highest federal rating for special education services

Delaware earned the highest rating possible from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in its evaluation of the state’s special education services. The top marks come just three years after Delaware had received a “needs intervention” rating, the second-lowest.

“I am proud of the progress our state has made.  Led by our school districts and charter schools, their collective efforts are reflected in this rating,” Secretary of Education Susan Bunting said. “Although more work remains, this is confirmation that we are continuing to move in the right direction.”

For the past two years Delaware received the second-highest rating, “needs assistance,” falling just shy last year of earning the top “meets requirements” rating earned this year. In each of the past three years, Delaware’s scores reflected progress: Delaware moved from an overall grade of 53 percent in 2014 to 68 percent in 2015 and to 76 percent in 2016. This year, Delaware scored 83 percent.

This year’s evaluation, based on school data from the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, takes into account the following improvements Delaware made to special education since earning the “needs intervention” rating in 2013. That rating had been based on performance data from the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years.

For the past three years, Delaware has:

  • Provided professional learning for special education teachers on standards-based Individual Education Plans (IEPs), positive behavior supports and accessing the general curriculum.
  • Included special education teachers in all trainings related to the state’s academic standards.
  • Assisted districts and charters schools in developing transition plans for students with disabilities who are 14 years old or entering the eighth grade to help them succeed in jobs or further education.  The state has been collecting data to ensure those plans are being prepared and carried out.
  • Clarified for districts and charters the policies requiring students with disabilities to take the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and state assessments to ensure the state has full information on the progress of these students.
  • Provided districts and charter schools with comprehensive data on their performance to help local leaders better understand how well they are complying with state and federal law and how their students with disabilities are performing academically.
  • Provided targeted state technical assistance to those districts and charter schools found to be in need of assistance and intervention.

In addition, the Delaware Department of Education has completed year three of Delaware’s IDEA State Systemic Improvement Plan focusing on improving literacy in grades K-3 for all students including students with disabilities and English learners.  To implement this plan, the Delaware Early Literacy Initiative was established to support districts and charters in providing a robust multi-tiered system of academic supports for literacy.  Cohort I began in Fall 2017 and included Thomas Edison Charter School and Cape Henlopen’s Milton and HO Brittingham elementary schools.  During the 2017 – 2018 school year, the Department of Education will continue working with Cohort I schools as well as partnering with new schools for Cohort II. 

Woodbridge School District is among those districts and charters that made strong progress this year.

Woodbridge Superintendent Heath Chasanov points to regular data review meetings in which a team of staff members look at a variety of indicators reflective of children’s academic, social and behavioral needs. Team members talk about what is going well and what changes need to be made – tomorrow.

“It’s real-time conversations,” he said.

Media Contact: Alison May, alison.may@doe.k12.de.us, (302) 735-4099


Education Due Process Layperson Panelist Members Sought

Due Process Layperon Panelist Members Sought:
The Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC) is currently searching for volunteers to fill the positon of Layperson Panelist. Under IDEA and Delaware Law, there is an administrative hearing process to resolve disputes related to educational matters. The ideal candidate for this volunteer position will have a demonstrated interested in the education of children with disabilities. Training is provided and, if called to serve on a panel, compensation will be given. Please visit our website www.gacec.delaware.gov and click on the link at the bottom of the page to access the application.


Delaware Department of Justice Statement on U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision to Review Services for Children With Disabilities

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear a case from the state of Colorado involving the level of educational services that must be provided to public school students with disabilities. The case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is significant because it will be the first time in decades that the U.S. Supreme Court has addressed this issue, and different federal courts around the country have come to different conclusions on the question.

“This case may not have significant implications for Delaware public schoolchildren with disabilities,” Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said. “Delaware state law was changed in 2010, in a bill I worked on as Lieutenant Governor with Representative Quinn Johnson and Senator David Sokola, to require that Delaware public schools provide services to Delaware students with disabilities that matches the highest level of services required by federal courts interpreting this issue. However, sometimes the language that the U.S. Supreme Court uses in issuing its decisions can be as important as the decisions themselves. For that reason, the Delaware Department of Justice will be seeking to advocate – potentially with other state Attorneys General — for the U.S. Supreme Court to find that the highest level of services for children with disabilities currently recognized by federal courts is the correct level for all of the nation’s children, and for the Supreme Court to provide specific guidance to the states as to how to implement its decision in order to ensure that children with disabilities have an opportunity to fulfill their potential.”


Legislation Introduced to Change Education Plan Process for Students with Disabilities

 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


Lt. Governor Unveils Website for Teachers

Professional Development Videos Provide Information on Working with Children with Special Needs

WILMINGTON, Del. – Today, Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn unveiled a new website – www.frontoftheclassDE.com – full of videos created by teachers, for teachers, that focus on educating children with special needs.

Watch Lt. Governor Denn share his idea for this project here: http://de.gov/frontofclass

Some of the organizations that will promote the website and share with their members are the Delaware Autism Program, Delaware Parent Teacher Association, Delaware State Board of Education, Delaware State Education Association, and the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens.

A full list of acknowledgements for all of those that generously volunteered their time for this project in on the website, but the Lt. Governor wants to extend special thanks to Dr. Vince Winterling and the Delaware Autism Program, Dr. Laura Dewey of Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital, Dom Squittiere and Corey Bowen of Red Clay Consolidated School District, The Centreville Layton School and The Pilot School. Additionally, thanks to Catherine Miller and Ann Calamia of HNH Multimedia Productions for their work in bringing this year-long project to life.