Search This Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Feds Release New Guidance on §504, Seclusion & Restraints and Charter Schools

From Jim Gerl's Special Education Law Blog

By Jim Gerl, Esq.
December 28, 2016

The U.S. Department of Education released three new sets of guidance today to assist the public in understanding how the Department interprets and enforces federal civil rights laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities. These guidance documents clarify the rights of students with disabilities and the responsibilities of educational institutions in ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn.

The three new sets of documents include:
  • a Dear Colleague letter (DCL) and question and answer document on the use of restraint and seclusion in public schools and when such seclusion or restraion may violate §504 and the ADA; and,
  • jointly-issued Dear Colleague Letter and question and answer documents to help update educators, parents, students, and other stakeholders to better understand the rights of students with disabilities in public charter schools under Section 504 and IDEA (issued by both OCR and OSERS).

The Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, issued by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), provides a broad overview of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504).

The guidance describes school districts’ nondiscrimination responsibilities, including obligations to provide educational services to students with disabilities, and outlines the steps parents can take to ensure that their children secure all of the services they are entitled to receive.

Among other things, the Section 504 Parent and Educator Resource Guide:
  • Defines and provides examples to illustrate the meaning of key terms used in Section 504.
  • Highlights requirements of Section 504 in the area of public elementary and secondary education, including provisions related to the identification, evaluation, and placement of students with disabilities, and procedures for handling disputes and disagreements between parents and school districts.

The second guidance package released by OCR addresses the circumstances under which use of restraint or seclusion can result in discrimination against students with disabilities, in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Department’s May 15, 2012 Restraint and Seclusion: Resource Document suggested best practices to prevent the use of restraint or seclusion, recommending that school districts never use physical restraint or seclusion for disciplinary purposes and never use mechanical restraint, and that trained school officials use physical restraint or seclusion only if a child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others.

The DCL and question and answer document released today offer additional information about the legal limitations on use of restraint or seclusion to assist school districts in meeting their obligations to students with disabilities.

The third guidance package released today was developed by OCR and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). The jointly-issued Dear Colleague Letter and question and answer documents will help update educators, parents, students, and other stakeholders to better understand the rights of students with disabilities in public charter schools under Section 504 and IDEA.

These documents provide information about how to provide equal opportunity in compliance with Section 504 in key areas such as charter school recruitment, application, admission, enrollment and disenrollment, accessibility of facilities and programs, and nonacademic and extracurricular activities.

The documents are responsive to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s 2012 report, Charter Schools: Additional Federal Attention Needed to Help Protect Access for Students with Disabilities, which included the recommendation that the Department issue updated guidance on the obligations of charter schools.

The Section 504 Charter guidance:
  • Explains that charter school students with disabilities (and those seeking to attend) have the same rights under Section 504 and Title II of the ADA as other public school students with disabilities.
  • Details the Section 504 right to nondiscrimination in recruitment, application, and admission to charter schools.
  • Clarifies that during the admission process a charter school generally may not ask a prospective student if he or she has a disability.
  • Reminds charter schools, other entities, and parents that charter school students with disabilities have the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under Section 504.

The IDEA Charter guidance:
  • Emphasizes that children with disabilities who attend charter schools and their parents retain all rights and protections under Part B of IDEA (such as FAPE) just as they would at other public schools.
  • Provides that under IDEA a charter school may not unilaterally limit the services that must be provided a particular student with a disability.
  • Reminds schools that the least restrictive environment provisions require that, to the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities attending public schools, including public charter schools, be educated with students who are non-disabled.
  • Clarifies that students with disabilities attending charter schools retain all IDEA rights and protections included in the IDEA discipline procedures.

The Debate Over Sensory Processing

From the Child Mind Institute

By Beth Arky
December 26, 2016

A look at the dispute over whether sensory symptoms constitute a disorder, and whether treatment works.

Jodi and Matt were mystified. At 2, their son, Paul, was behaving in ways no parenting book had described: knocking into walls, hugging them to the point of hurting, and screaming inexplicably in restaurants. He was strangely tentative when climbing or balancing on the playground equipment. Instead, he always rushed for the swings, which he loved pushing as much as he loved being pushed in.

The couple didn’t know how different their only child’s behaviors were until Paul started preschool and they got to know more children and their parents. While their pediatrician dismissed their concerns, saying that kids outgrew these things, their preschool director did not: She suggested an evaluator, who said that their little boy had sensory processing disorder or, as she called it, SPD.


She explained that SPD includes being too sensitive to some stimuli, which made loud, crowded restaurants so overwhelming they triggered meltdowns, and not sensitive enough to other input and therefore craving it, which would explain the hugging and crashing into walls, as well as his love of both swinging and pushing the swings.

And, he had trouble with the senses that help him “know where his body is in space,” which would account for the clumsiness and fear while climbing. She recommended occupational therapy (OT).

It’s difficult when parents receive conflicting messages from professionals involved with their children. Jodi and Matt were confused, but their son was in distress and, at best, OT sounded benign. They decided to give it a try. The occupational therapist invited them to come see what Paul was doing in therapy—”crashing” into beanbags, swinging in a stretchy hammock, and being smooshed into a “Paul sandwich,” with pillows subbing in for other fillings and bread, all to give him the input he sought and help calm him.

She urged them to try these ideas at home as part of what’s called a “sensory diet” and also suggested that they read The Out-of-Sync Child, Carol Stock Kranowitz’s seminal book on sensory processing problems. They recognized Paul’s behaviors in the book and it all started to make sense to them. Most important, they felt they were able to do something to help their son—and that he seemed to be improving.

This family’s story is a common one, says Lindsey Biel, an occupational therapist and coauthor of Raising a Sensory Smart Child. When a child is identified as having developmental delays, not speaking or walking as well as other children his age, the first thing parents often hear is SPD.

“On top of confirmation of these delays, parents are given this unheard-of diagnosis of sensory processing disorder,” she says.

One of the reasons it’s often “unheard of” is that SPD is not included among the conditions spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the guide used by psychiatrists and many other clinicians—including pediatricians, psychologists, and social workers—in diagnosis. It is occupational therapists who first theorized that sensory processing issues are a source of distress for many children, and an explanation for a lot of otherwise puzzling behaviors.

And it is often OTs who identify these challenges, typically in preschool children, and who specialize in treating them. Despite an intense campaign—waged in part so that costly private treatments could be covered by insurance—it was not added as a new diagnosis in the latest edition of the diagnostic manual, the DSM-5.

What is accepted in the wider clinical community is that many children do have unusual and sometimes problematic sensory responses, including most of those kids who are eventually diagnosed with autism. Indeed, Paul was later found to be on the autism spectrum. In the latest edition of the diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, sensory problems like the ones Paul experienced are now listed as one of the criteria for an autism diagnosis.

But lots of other children who are identified as having sensory issues as preschoolers are later diagnosed with ADHD—Paul’s secondary diagnosis—and others with anxiety. And some are never diagnosed with any disorder in the DSM.

So while there is general agreement that some children do have serious sensory challenges, the disagreement is over whether SPD should be considered an independent disorder, how far sensory issues go in explaining behaviors, and whether the treatment occupational therapists offer for sensory issues has any effect on a child’s functioning over time.

Understanding the Disagreement

Dr. Michael Rosenthal, a pediatric neuropsychologist and the son of an occupational therapist, explains the landscape this way: On the one hand, it’s clear that identifying sensory issues and working with an OT help many children become calmer and better regulated. By tuning in to a child’s particular sensory profile, they can find ways to help kids cope and bring them more balance. “I’ve known many OTs who are really creative and ‘get’ kids very well,” he says.


On the other hand, it’s not clear how much benefit children get from the techniques and whether it’s possible to generalize enough from the behavior of individual kids to consider it a coherent disorder. “The thing we don’t really understand is how and if this approach works for every kid who has sensory issues,” Dr. Rosenthal adds, “and where the science is in creating a specific sensory diet for a specific kid.”

Dr. Catherine Lord, a leading autism expert and the director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, argues that sensory issues are an important concern, but not a diagnosis in themselves. “I do think there’s a value in attending to how a child is perceiving sensations, thinking about whether he could be uncomfortable. Where I get concerned is labeling it as a separate disorder.”

From a parent’s point of view, it’s hard to understand why it matters whether SPD is considered a legitimate diagnosis by clinicians who go by the DSM. But from a clinical point of view, diagnoses are essential. They drive treatment, by helping clinicians understand the symptoms they are seeing and how best to respond to them.

The mental health establishment doesn’t acknowledge SPD as a distinct disorder because it isn’t convinced that SPD is the best possible way to understand, and approach, those symptoms. And it’s dissatisfied with evidence that the treatment gets real, measurable results.

“The debate is not about the importance and quality of work that OTs are involved in—we know that OTs help many children,” says Dr. Matthew Cruger, a psychologist and the director of the Child Mind Institute’s Learning and Development Center.

“It is about whether we have acquired sufficient scientific evidence to conclude two things: Are kids who show these behaviors consistently and meaningfully different from typical kids, and are there specific treatments for this problem?”

“In the sensory integration world, I think there are too many assumptions about cause and effect,” adds Dr. Dominick Auciello, also a neuropsychologist. “The explanations seem logical,” he says, “but they are not based in careful study about whether that logic is actually true.”

Dr. Auciello offers an example: Consider the OTs’ claim that kids hug other kids excessively because they are seeking deep pressure. It’s an interesting theory, he says, but “there are other equally feasible hypotheses, such as if a child is impulsive, has autism, is inattentive to social cues, has trouble internalizing verbal social rules, has seen modeling of inappropriate behavior, or lacks a sense of social boundaries.”

Dr. Rosenthal adds that identifying what’s causing a particular behavior can be especially difficult in children who have complex issues, as many children with sensory challenges do. Take a child with autism who is averse to the feeling of water on his face:

“We don’t know where these things came from,” he says. “There may be certain kids who come out sensory reactive from the womb and some who develop it from experience. A child could have a very early encounter that’s negative—a mini trauma—that sticks in his mind, and he generalizes and avoids those things in the future. If an experience is powerful and reinforced, it can become just as powerful as an organic issue.”

Is it a sensory issue, then, or is it anxiety?

So while there are anecdotal accounts that kids respond to sensory work, skeptics point to a lack of research that clarifies how and how much they work to improve a child’s functioning. “Any studies are poorly constructed, too small of a sample size, or show that the treatment actually did not work,” Dr. Auciello says. He also worries that the interventions may actually reinforce the symptoms:

“For example,” he says, “if a child has a meltdown and is then allowed to go to the sensory gym to help him ‘regulate,’ you may actually be rewarding the meltdown.”

The research outlook may be brightening, however. In 2007, a team led by Lucy Jane Miller, director of the STAR (Sensory Therapies and Research) Center, released a randomized controlled pilot study of the effects of sensory integration treatment. Though the sample was tiny—24 children, just 8 of whom received the treatment—and it showed significant improvement in functioning only in three of six measures, its authors concluded that the study did validate a model for how researchers can identify homogenous groups of subjects. This is an important step for enhancing the reliability of a future study.

Indeed, in a paper from the University of California, San Francisco, researchers claim to have done just that—identify a group of kids with pure SPD—and found that their brains are in fact different from controls in key sensory areas.

Of course, researching the brain biology of a disorder without a codified diagnosis—and that so often overlaps with other neurodevelopmental conditions—isn’t a risk-free proposition; investigators screened out kids with ADHD diagnoses, but many had high scores on scales for ADHD symptoms, so the study could be interpreted to show more about ADHD than SPD.

But investigations like this can shed light on the sensory symptomatology that all clinicians and researchers agree, at minimum, is present in many kids on the autism spectrum or with ADHD, as well as others, and help lay groundwork for future efforts.

Separating Sensory Issues from Other Disorders

But studies like UCSF’s may do nothing to dull the disagreement, precisely because of the ambiguity in symptoms that can characterize several diagnoses. Some believers in SPD claim that common symptoms that are attributed to other disorders that are in the DSM-5, including autism, ADHD, and anxiety disorders, may actually stem from sensory challenges.

Marcus Jarrow, an OT and clinical director of the SMILE Center, which offers a sensory gym and other therapies, posits that autism is essentially an extreme case of SPD. He quotes the late Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist who did seminal work on developmental disorders.

“Dr. Greenspan once said something along the lines of ‘every child on the spectrum has sensory processing dysfunction, but not every child with SPD is on the spectrum. When the sensory processing issues become severe enough to impact relatedness, engagement and the child’s ability to interact with the world around them, then the child is on the spectrum,’ ” Jarrow says.

Jarrow argues that sensory-based work is the key to getting children on the spectrum engaged socially. “In my experience, it is often in response to appropriately applied sensory-based strategies that children on the spectrum demonstrate their initial, or most consistent and meaningful, engagement,” he says.

“If a child cannot appropriately register and interpret the sensory information from their worlds, they will tune it out. Try making sense of an especially long foreign film with no subtitles while bombs are going off outside your window.”

But he doesn’t just work with kids on the spectrum. “I see sensory processing issues as the root of much of the ‘hyperactivity’ and ‘attention’ difficulties we observe these days. If a child has somato-sensory issues and can’t get comfortable in their seat for more than a few seconds, that child will clearly present with increased activity levels and certainly have a difficult time paying attention,” he says, adding, “I firmly believe that a lot of children diagnosed with ADHD and treated with meds could otherwise respond very well to sensory integration treatment.”

As an example, he cites a 6-year-old boy who came to his clinic, after his mother said she had been pressured by his school to have him evaluated—and medicated—for ADHD. “After a summer of pretty intensive sensory integration treatment with great home carryover,” Jarrow said, “he went back to school in September and meds were never brought up again. I’m not trying to imply in any way that SI can prevent every kid out there from going on medication, but it certainly can help.”


“To say any child has a disorder,” responds Dr. Cruger, “you have to answer if the condition exists to scientific standards. And if you can meet that threshold of empirical evidence, then you begin to see how effective the treatments are for alleviating that condition. Therefore, it is worth noting that there are not scientific studies that support Jarrow’s claim that a child with ADHD could be better treated by OT than medication, but there have been hundreds of studies examining the diagnosis of ADHD and the use of medication to treat the symptoms of ADHD in these children—generally showing medication to be a safe and effective treatment of the symptoms of this disorder, though not a cure for the condition.”

“In addition,” Dr. Cruger says, “neuroscientific studies, including CT scans and MRI studies, have seen volumetric differences between typically developing youngsters and children diagnosed with ADHD—not in those somato-sensory regions, but in frontal lobe regions noted to be essential for the inhibition of impulses.”

Skepticism Over What Treatment Does

One of the most hot-button aspects of the SPD debate is this claim, of Jarrow and others, that sensory-based protocols, used correctly, can actually “rewire” the brain, allowing for more optimal regulation. Skeptics agree that kids can change, but argue that what’s being called sensory rewiring may really just be behavioral training.

Dr. Rosenthal gives an example: “Take a kid who’s behaviorally out of control. Let’s say he spends several days a week working with an OT in a sensory gym, and he gets himself under control. And the effect seems to improve his self-regulation over time. Something’s happening in the brain, maybe some neuronal patterns or some axons wiring together, creating better regulation in brain. Is it sensory rewiring of some kind or learning a new calming method?”


The challenge, he adds, is to isolate the component of therapy that’s actually helping the child.

The SPD Foundation, which campaigned unsuccessfully to have the disorder listed as a separate diagnosis on the DSM-5, is doing its own ongoing research through its SPD Scientific Working Group. Two researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University are now testing the short-term effects of sensory-based therapy in improving attention and functional performance in children ages 6 to 10 with typical development, ADHD, and autism.

As research struggles to catch up with practice, more OTs and clinicians are open to working together to benefit kids. In fact, Biel just completed a book, Sensory Processing Challenges: Effective Clinical Work with Kids & Teens, that’s intended for mental health clinicians so that they can become more knowledgeable about how sensory challenges affect their clients.

She also teamed up in 2009 with Dr. Fernette Eide, a neurologist, and husband Dr. Brock Eide, a primary care physician, to present the Sensory Processing Master Class webinar to teach parents and professionals how to help children with “attention, learning, motor skills and social/emotional issues.”

Dr. Fernette Eide says the continuing controversy over SPD is unfortunate because kids with sensory processing problems would benefit most from a “team approach with close coordination among psychiatrists, psychologists, and other professionals.”

While the American Academy of Pediatrics stated in 2012 that there is not support for SPD as a diagnosible condition, the group did acknowledge the existence of sensory-based challenges and the fact that a lot of children are receiving therapies related to them, although they cautioned that there was limited data on the use of these therapies or their effectiveness.

Because of this, the AAP recommends that pediatricians help parents find ways of measuring therapy outcomes by creating pre-and post-behavior rating scales as well as explicit treatment goals, such as the ability to focus, tolerate foods, and be in a loud room.

Four years after Paul began OT, he’s still at it, along with physical and speech therapy and a social skills group. Given all that, plus the fact that her son has matured and can express himself more verbally, it’s hard for Jodi to say with any certainty that the sensory diet has “rewired his brain.”

All she knows is that when he gets “the sillies” and can’t sit still, she will pull out one of her sensory techniques such as jumping on the bed to provide him with the input he craves. She, and many other parents like her, aren’t waiting for a study to try to help their kids.

Read More

Friday, December 30, 2016

‘You Are All Our Kids, No Matter What’: Award Winning Teachers Band Together, Speak Out to Protect Students

From The Washington Post

By Emma Brown
December 23, 2016

In the wake of the presidential election, dozens of the best teachers in the nation have banded together to say with a unified voice that public schools are valuable and that they must be safe places for students of every background, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation and gender identity.

“You are all our kids, no matter what,” says the group, Protect Public Ed, in a video posted this week on its new website,

The 44 teachers are all state teacher of the year award recipients. They said they were moved to speak out after a rash of troubling bullying incidents — at their own schools, in some cases, and in news reports nationwide — following Donald Trump’s presidential election victory on November 8.

“Right after the election, we started seeing people inside and outside of the classroom feeling emboldened to say racially charged things to many of our students,” said Ryan Kaiser, Maryland’s teacher of the year. “That really started galvanizing how quickly we needed to get something done and get the message out there.”

Daniel Jocz, of California, said even in liberal Los Angeles, his students expressed fear of harassment and deportation.

[Video shows Pennsylvania teenagers celebrating, shouting ‘white power’ after Trump win]

The Southern Poverty Law Center documented nearly 900 hate incidents in the 10 days following the election, many of them in schools. Because the organization wasn’t tracking incidents before the election, it’s impossible to know whether Trump’s campaign — marked by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric and by allegations that he had sexually assaulted multiple women — coincided with a rise in such acts of hatred.

Many teachers have reported a change in the tenor and intensity of harassment on their campuses and in their communities. Talya Edlund, an elementary school teacher from Maine, said she and her colleagues wanted to create “a launchpad for teachers to feel like they could talk about some of what they’ve seen.”

The video was created with resources donated by Kentucky filmmaker Roman Lane and ed tech start-up Curio Learning, helmed by Kentucky Teacher of the Year Ashley Lamb-Sinclair. Here’s the transcript:

"Teachers across the U.S. aim to make every student feel at home in their classrooms … every single day.

In our classrooms we celebrate diversity, teach kindness and empathy, challenge stereotypes. We question the status quo, provide role models, speak honestly, open minds, rebel and take risks.

We collaborate, uncover each other’s stories, believe in something bigger, encourage thoughtful debate, listen and show compassion.

We stand for one another.

We do it every day and we won’t stop doing it for you, our Spanish-speaking, hijab-wearing, transgender-living, gay, straight, black, brown, white, tan, rural, inner-city, suburban students and everyone in between.

You are all our kids, no matter what.

The classroom is your home and you deserve only the best from it.

We will stand tall for you, beside you, with you until the day you’re ready to stand on your own.

Join America’s teachers of the year, along with thousands of others who work hard to protect the beautiful young people in our public schools."

In the long term, the teachers hope that they and their website will provide other teachers and communities with resources not only to protect students but to protect public schools at-large. Their mission is to “promote positive discussion about what is working in America’s public schools, challenge misunderstandings, and encourage action from citizens to support them.”

Asked whether the push to protect public education is a response to Trump’s embrace of private school vouchers — and to his pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, a voucher advocate — teachers said they do worry about policy initiatives that might drain public schools of the funds they need to serve low-income children and children with special needs.

“This isn’t a political thing, to say that students should be safe in our buildings. There’s nothing political that our public schools are institutions of our democracy and should be protected,” said Nate Bowling, Washington state’s teacher of the year. 

“To me, these are apolitical things, these are matters of justice,” he said. And if they become political matters within the next four years, he said, “I welcome that debate.”

Ashley Lamb-Sinclair, of Kentucky, said she and her colleagues work hard for their own students every day. But they want to do more.

“We’re in our classrooms, and we’ve got those four walls and kids within them to protect. But we also have a bigger mission and a bigger purpose in terms of protecting the system, and protecting the ideals of what public education means,” she said.

Several state teachers of the year are not participating in the project. Most did not reply to request for comment; Roger King, of Wisconsin, and Ernie Lee, of Georgia, both said they support the group’s message but — given their classroom workload — hadn’t had enough time to participate.

Why School Should Start Later in the Morning

From The Atlantic

By Emily Richmond
August 17, 2015

The CDC weighs in: Early class times are taking a toll on adolescents’ health and academic performance.

For the first time, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging education policymakers to start middle- and high-school classes later in the morning. The idea is to improve the odds of adolescents getting sufficient sleep so they can thrive both physically and academically.

The CDC’s recommendations come a year after the American Academy of Pediatrics urged schools to adjust start times so more kids would get the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of nightly rest. Both the CDC and the pediatricians’ group cited significant risks that come with lack of sleep, including higher rates of obesity and depression and motor-vehicle accidents among teens as well as an overall lower quality of life.

“Getting enough sleep is important for students’ health, safety, and academic performance,” Anne Wheaton, the lead author and epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division of Population Health, said in a statement. “Early school start times, however, are preventing many adolescents from getting the sleep they need.”

“Everybody learns better when they’re awake.”

In more than 40 states, at least 75 percent of public schools start earlier than 8:30 a.m., according to the CDC’s report. And while later start times won’t replace other important interventions—like parents making sure their children get enough rest—schools clearly play an important role in students’ daily schedules, the report concluded.

While the federal recommendation is making headlines, the data on the potential risks of chronically tired adolescents isn’t new information. Indeed, the research has been accumulating steadily for years, including some recent large-scale studies.

As the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported in April, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement “finally put to rest the long-standing question of whether later start times correlate to increased academic performance for high-school students”:

Researchers analyzed data from more than 9,000 students at eight high schools in Minnesota, Colorado, and Wyoming and found that shifting the school day later in the morning resulted in a boost in attendance, test scores, and grades in math, English, science, and social studies. Schools also saw a decrease in tardiness, substance abuse, and symptoms of depression. Some even had a dramatic drop in teen car crashes.

Here’s what the research shows:

Adolescents’ “internal clocks”—the circadian rhythms that control a human’s responses to stimuli and determine sleep patterns—operate differently than those of other age groups. It’s typically more difficult for adolescents to fall asleep earlier in the evening than it is for other age demographics.

And, while teenagers are going to bed later, their school start times are often becoming earlier as they advance through middle and high school.

In a landmark study in 1998 of adolescent sleeping habits, the Brown University researcher Mary Carskadon followed 10th-graders who were making the switch to a 7:20 a.m. start time, about an hour earlier than their schedule as ninth-graders. Despite the new schedule, the students went to bed at about the same time as they did the year before: 10:40 p.m. on average.

The students bordered on “pathologically sleepy.”

Carskadon’s team found that students showed up for morning classes seriously sleep-deprived and that the 7:20 a.m. start time required them to be awake during hours that ran contrary to their internal clocks.

Fewer than half of the 10th-graders averaged even seven hours of sleep each night, which is already below the recommended amount. Indeed, Carskadon’s team concluded the students bordered on “pathologically sleepy.”

So, if the science is so strong, what’s getting in the way of changing the policy?

Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior, notes that passionate arguments abound on both sides of the debate—just about all of which she’s heard over the years. In some districts, the start times are largely dictated by local transportation companies, with school boards and superintendents contending they lack the funds or authority to change things.

Meanwhile, parents are often reluctant to have teens start later, whether because they rely on having older children at home in the afternoons to take care of younger siblings or because they’re concerned that it will interfere with extracurricular opportunities. Indeed, there’s always a vocal chorus warning that later start times will hurt high-school sports.

But none of those worries override the reality that, as Carskadon put it, “everybody learns better when they’re awake.”

Implementing later start times can be feasible without causing major disruptions, as many school districts have demonstrated, Carskadon said. But it requires that all stakeholders commit to what’s often a time-consuming process of finding creative solutions, which, she added, isn’t always easy.

The medical writer and mother of three Terra Ziporyn Snider, who’s emerged as a national advocate for later start times, also cited widespread challenges hindering schools from making the switch. Getting school systems to change takes more than just presenting scientific evidence, said Snider, the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Start School Later. The organization deploys volunteers to communities that are considering later school start times to bolster grassroots efforts.

“Social norms are at the root of this problem—most people don’t take [adolescent sleep deprivation] seriously and don’t see it as a public-health issue,” Snider said. “That kind of thinking has to change.”

One of the problems facing advocates of later school start times is that the people sympathetic to their cause seldom have the authority to reset the academic clock, Snider said. Parents typically only care about the issue when it affects their own families’ schedules, she said. That means roughly every four years the key players are replaced, and the grassroots efforts have to start from scratch.

“You start talking about changing start times, and people immediately jump to [all kinds of conclusions]. Teens will miss out on sports. Little kids will go to school in the dark and get run over by a car. What will happen to my child care?” Snider said. “A lot of these fears and speculations turn out to be red herrings. The real obstacles are failure of imagination.”

Snider is hopeful that the policy pressures are reaching a tipping point, though, with the help of major voices like the CDC weighing in.

“It’s becoming increasingly embarrassing to say, ‘If we start school later, what happens to my kid’s three-hour soccer practice?’” Snider said. “We have to convince school systems this has to happen for the health of kids. It’s not a negotiable school budget item—it’s an absolute requirement.”

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Expect More Emphasis on SEL in 2017

From SmartBrief

By David Adams
December 21, 2016

The purpose of public education is to ensure students are prepared to meaningfully contribute to society. While this means making sure they develop the thinking skills and content knowledge associated with the core subjects of English, math, science and social studies, it also means ensuring that students have the skills, attitudes and values that will allow them to use this education to succeed in an increasingly complex society.

Indeed, studies show that since 1980, almost all of the job growth in the US has been in occupations requiring high social and emotional learning skills. SEL skills, which include self-awareness, social-awareness, self-management, decision-making and forging relationships, are foundational competencies for achievement in school, work and life.

The question at hand: which states and districts will prioritize these skills to enhance student success? 

As of December 2015, The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning reported that only four of the 50 states had developed comprehensive standards for SEL with developmental benchmarks. But there is good news.

Several states have started that process, putting their students at a competitive advantage in this knowledge economy. In addition, the Aspen Institute recently initiated a national commission to discuss the importance of this work across the country, while the Every Student Succeeds Act has placed an increased emphasis on non-cognitive supports to student achievement. CASEL reports that more and more individual school districts and networks across the country -- including mine, the Urban Assembly in New York City -- are making SEL a priority.

Teachers, parents and policy makers are realizing what kids have always known -- that students perform better when their social-emotional development is prioritized across K-12 education, and we as a society benefit from this success.

At the Urban Assembly, we have made social-emotional development a core tenet of our work with students. With 21 middle and high schools in our network serving more than 9,000 students in high-poverty areas of Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, we know that by enhancing their social-emotional strengths, and developing areas of need, our students can overcome the many risk factors associated with poverty.

We are confident that a student body comprised predominantly of under-served youth who could be the first in their family to attend college, many whom entered our schools well below grade level, will succeed not only in the test of school, but in the tests of life.

A focus on SEL skills equips our students to navigate all of life’s challenges, not just academics. It’s about forging relationships with teachers and with each other that will help students develop the resilience to break out of the cycle of poverty and contribute their talents to our society at large.

We have codified our approach to SEL through the Resilient Scholars Program (RSP). Our students and schools have demonstrated strong results with the number of incidents leading to suspensions decreasing and academics and school climate improving. These are the four tenets of our approach:

  • Direct instruction: All students benefit from direct instruction and explicit development of the skills, attitudes, and values that promote resilience. We use SEL curriculum to teach these social emotional skills and mindsets, such as self-management, self-awareness, relationship skills, and growth mindset, to our staff and students.
  • Alignment and integration: Direct instruction for social-emotional development is supported and reinforced through the integration and alignment of SEL concepts throughout the day and through enrichment activities, which often have implicit SEL skills embedded. Similarly, integrating SEL ideas and concepts throughout academic periods, counseling sessions, and in the school’s discipline system increases the exposure and maximizes learning.
  • Sustainability of implementation: Sustainability of school-based initiatives is an essential component for creating routine, effective practice and long-term success. We developed a sustainability and implementation rubric which provides a framework for implementing those tasks critical to the fidelity and sustainability of the RSP.
  • Social and emotional competencies assessment: In this era of accountability, schools care about what they can measure. The assessment of students' social emotional competencies is an important indicator of successful SEL program implementation. The Resilient Scholar Program utilizes a standards-based online SEL Assessment to assess students' social-emotional competencies and track growth over time. The assessment is also used as a formative assessment to guide SEL instruction within classrooms in order to best serve students' social-emotional needs.

In the coming years, more and more districts will realize that social-emotional development is not ancillary to the work of educators, but foundational to it. The science, experience and desire of educators, business people, parents and students, alike are all pointing toward the importance of adopting SEL programs and approaches in districts across the country.

As the trend toward implementing such programs and approaches in school matures, we hope we can be an example for other districts in the coming years.

David Adams is director of social and emotional learning at the Urban Assembly in New York City. Prior to this role he served as social-emotional learning coordinator for District 75 in New York City. He has also worked internationally in schools in England and has published two papers on the topic. 
At Urban Assembly he oversees the Resilient Scholars Program that includes SEL curriculum and assessments. Urban Assembly uses Evo Social & Emotional byApperson to develop students’ SEL strengths and needs to maximize their success upon graduation.

School Vouchers 101: What They Are, How They Work — and Do They Work?

From nprEd
How learning happens.

By Cory Turner
December 7, 2016

"Do voucher students perform better than they would have in their neighborhood school? At the most I can say, 'Maybe, a little bit.' But there's not a lot of evidence that they'll have any substantial academic gains."

President-elect Donald Trump said on the campaign trail that school choice is "the new civil rights issue of our time." But to many Americans, talk of school choice isn't liberating; it's just plain confusing.

Exhibit A: Vouchers.

Politicians love to use this buzzword in perpetual second reference, assuming vouchers are like Superman: Everyone knows where they came from and what they can do. They're wrong.

And, as Trump has tapped an outspoken champion of vouchers, Betsy DeVos, to be the next education secretary, it's time for a quick origin story.

What are they?

Think of traditional vouchers as coupons, backed by state dollars, that parents can use to send their kids to the school of their choice, even private, religiously affiliated schools. The money is all or some of what the state would have otherwise spent to educate the child in a public school.

Often called scholarships, vouchers are most often reserved for low-income students, children with disabilities or for families zoned to a failing public school.

Where are they?

Fourteen states offer traditional student vouchers, according to EdChoice, a school choice advocacy group based in Indianapolis: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin, plus Washington, D.C.

The idea has been making headlines since the early 1990s, when several hundred students first took part in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

What about separation of church and state?

Ah, the old First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of vouchers in 2002, but many state constitutions still have what are called Blaine Amendments, which prohibit spending public dollars on religious schools. That's one reason the majority of states still don't offer traditional vouchers.

What does the research say?

"Most studies find modestly positive or neutral impact on student scores, and that's generally limited to African-American students in large urban centers," says Micah Ann Wixom, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States.

This 2007 Rand review of research found, as Wixom says, slight gains among students of color, but that the research "has a number of weaknesses that preclude comprehensive and definitive answers."

"Do voucher students perform better than they would have in their neighborhood school?" asks Josh Cunningham, a senior education policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures. "At the most I can say, 'Maybe, a little bit.' But there's not a lot of evidence that they'll have any substantial academic gains."

Or, as the Center on Education Policy underscored in its 2011 survey of voucher research: "Achievement gains for voucher students are similar to those of their public school peers."

It's also possible, Cunningham and Wixom note, that vouchers can work in the opposite direction. Both point to recent research on programs in Louisiana and Ohio that found vouchers may have a negative impact on student achievement.

What is Trump's plan?

In a nutshell: Trump has pitched repurposing $20 billion in federal education dollars, distributing them to states as block grants. States can then pass the money on, as vouchers, to the nation's 11 million students who live in poverty.

Trump has said he wants parents to be able to use these vouchers at the school of their choice, even if that school is private and/or religiously affiliated.

What are the obstacles to Trump's plan?

We already mentioned the fact that many state constitutions still have Blaine Amendments. That's Obstacle No. 1. It's not prohibitive, but a problem.

No. 2: It's possible that many of those repurposed federal dollars would come from Title I, a long-standing federal program meant to send additional money to school districts that serve at-risk students. The problem there is, just a year ago Congress finally rewrote the big education law that sets the ground rules for Title I.

It's hard to imagine the White House tapping this money without Congress cracking open the law and reworking the rules. And it's not clear there's enough appetite in Congress to do that.

No. 3: In Trump's speech unveiling his ambitious choice plan, the then-candidate said this about its price tag:

"If the states collectively contribute another $110 billion of their own education budgets toward school choice, on top of the $20 billion in federal dollars, that could provide $12,000 in school choice funds to every K-12 student who today lives in poverty."

Translation: Even if the Trump administration can scrape together $20 billion to pay for its voucher plan, that wouldn't begin to cover the full cost. Trump's plan would require states to kick in far more of their own money. And that will be tough, considering that as of 2014, 35 states were still spending less overall per student than they were in 2008. The Great Recession put many state education budgets in a vise grip that has yet to loosen.

No. 4: Finally, and perhaps most important of all: Vouchers are not universally popular, even among conservative voters. They may make a certain amount of sense in a large school district or a city where there are enough students — and established private schools — to support multiple choices.

But schools in many small towns are closing or consolidating. They don't have enough students to support choice. For lots of rural parents, vouchers are more abstraction than alternative.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Trauma Resources - Free and Multilingual

From the Child Mind Institute

December 21, 2016

Free, multilingual downloads of Child Mind Institute resources to help communities in the wake of tragic events.

When communities experience episodes of violence or face natural disasters these events are hard even for adults to comprehend.

We can’t shield our children from pain and fear when they’re exposed to such tragedy. But we can help them process what they’re experiencing in the healthiest way possible.

The Child Mind Institute has prepared free trauma resources to aid parents, educators, and other adults in talking to children and adolescents about potentially traumatic events and identifying those who might benefit from more focused professional attention.

Our children can be more sensitive to challenges around them because of their life experience and they need our support.

We hope these resources will be of assistance in a trying time, and that you will share them with anyone you think might benefit. And remember to take care of yourself; your children depend on you most of all.

English-language Resources
  • A message from the Child Mind Institute
  • Guide to Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event
  • Article on Helping Children Cope with Frightening News (download with the guide or read online now)

Recursos en Español
  • Ayudar a los niños a afrontar noticias perturbadoras
  • Ayudar a los niños a hacer frente después de un evento traumático
Download trauma resources in Spanish

Ressources en Français
  • Un message de Child Mind Institute
  • Comment aider les enfants à se remettre d’un événement traumatisant
  • Comment aider les enfants à réagir à une nouvelle terrifiante
Download trauma resources in French

Trauma Resources in Arabic
  • A message from the Child Mind Institute
  • Guide to Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event
  • Article on Helping Children Cope with Frightening News
Download trauma resources in Arabic

Trauma Resources in German
  • A message from the Child Mind Institute
  • Guide to Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event
  • Article on Helping Children Cope with Frightening News
Download trauma resources in German

Trauma Resources in Hebrew
  • A message from the Child Mind Institute
  • Guide to Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event
  • Article on Helping Children Cope with Frightening News
Download trauma resources in Hebrew

Trauma Resources in Italian
  • A message from the Child Mind Institute
  • Guide to Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event
  • Article on Helping Children Cope with Frightening News
Download trauma resources in Italian

Trauma Resources in (Simplified) Chinese
  • A message from the Child Mind Institute
  • Guide to Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event
  • Article on Helping Children Cope with Frightening News
Download trauma resources in Chinese

Trauma Resources in Russian
  • A message from the Child Mind Institute
  • Guide to Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event
  • Article on Helping Children Cope with Frightening News
Download trauma resources in Russian

Trauma Resources in Bengali
  • A message from the Child Mind Institute
  • Guide to Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event
  • Article on Helping Children Cope with Frightening News
Download trauma resources in Bengali