Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Long Read Worth Reading

You have to wonder if the closure of the Oregon School For The Blind is on the up and up. Back in early April I began to read stories from the web about how the parents of these students were not included in the discussion(s) leading to the decision. I found myself wondering if this was possible, as the idea was being pushed by Representative Sara Gelser, who has a child with a disability, and should certainly know better than to do things without lots of input from these parents. On April 14th I contacted Jim Wrigley from Disability Rights Oregon to see what he knew...

Hi Jim,

I've heard there was little parental input on the idea of closing the School For The Blind. Is there truth to that? Also, I'm wondering what position DRO is taking on this?

I've also heard there are plans to shut down the office for the Long Term Care Ombudsman. Have you heard anything about that?

I'll look forward to hearing from you.


He got back to me the next day with what he called an answer to my question, which is testimony given by their Executive Director to the House Education Committee...

April 7, 2009
TO: Representative Sara Gelser, Chair
House Education Committee
FR: Bob Joondeph, Executive Director
Disability Rights Oregon (formerly Oregon Advocacy Center)

RE: HB 2834

Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) is the designated Protection and Advocacy System for Oregon. We provide legal advocacy services to adults and children with disabilities in order to assist them in obtaining needed services and in protecting their legal and human rights.

Among the most critical sources of rights for individuals with disabilities are the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Both of these laws emphasize the importance of freedom from undue restriction and the opportunity to for full integration and participation in the community.

In considering the merits of HB 2834, I believe that it is upmost importance for this committee to keep these values in mind. For your assistance, I have set out below some key provisions of the IDEA and excerpts from the U.S. Supreme Court case of L.C. v. Olmstead, a case in which the court interprets provisions of the ADA which prohibit unnecessary segregation.


SEC. 612 states: 1a) IN GENERAL.--A State is eligible for assistance under this part for a fiscal year if the State submits a plan that provides assurances to the Secretary that the State has in effect policies and procedures to ensure that the State meets each of the following conditions:

(A) IN GENERAL.--To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities,
including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”

L.C. v. Olmstead

“Ultimately, in the ADA, enacted in 1990, Congress not only required all public entities to refrain from discrimination, additionally, in findings applicable to the entire statute, Congress explicitly identified unjustified "segregation" of persons with disabilities as a "for[m] of discrimination." See § 12101(a)(2) ("historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and, despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem"); § 12101(a)(5) ("individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination, including ... segregation").

Recognition that unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination reflects two evident judgments. First, institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.

Second, confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment. Dissimilar treatment correspondingly exists in this key respect: In order to receive needed medical services, persons with mental disabilities must, because of those disabilities, relinquish participation in community life they could enjoy given reasonable accommodations, while persons without mental disabilities can receive the medical services they need without similar sacrifice.”

Every child with disabilities deserves the opportunity to succeed in their community and not need to leave home in order to receive the services that are essential to that success. This is not only desirable as matters of principle and ethics, it is a qualified legal right.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this information.

Now this is interesting. The school has been around a lot longer than Disability Rights Oregon. Why did it take them until April 7th of this year to begin thinking about the rights of these students with disabilities? This looks to me like some kind of “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” scenario to me. Bob returning some kind of favor?

Then you have the stories of the modified diplomas in 4 Portland high schools. Sara was livid when she heard schools were using a loophole to issue these second-tier diplomas to students who may be less than easy to educate. Does she really believe the blind students will do well in Oregon’s public school system?...

Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian

Saturday May 09, 2009, 8:08 PM

Four Portland high schools used a loophole in Oregon law to inflate their graduation rates by issuing second-tier "modified" diplomas to one of every eight graduates in 2008, an analysis by The Oregonian shows.

Modified diplomas are intended for students with severe disabilities who can't pass regular academic classes even with extra support.

Students who earn them take mainly nonacademic classes in high school, aren't eligible for federal financial aid in college and aren't normally accepted into the military.

Until this year, however, the state had no guidelines governing modified diplomas; schools could issue them to whichever students they chose and could set the standards for the diploma as low as they wished.

The state didn't regulate the diplomas partly because they are so rare, said Jackie Burr, education specialist at the Oregon Department of Education. Statewide, high schools gave modified diplomas to fewer than 3 percent of graduates in each of the past five years.

But Marshall, Roosevelt, Madison and Jefferson high schools -- the Portland high schools with the highest poverty rates and highest dropout rates -- gave modified diplomas to an average of 12 percent of their graduates last spring. That was nearly five times the rate in the rest of the state.

Modified diplomas: Which metro schools issued the most

Modified diplomas are intended for students whose disabilities impede their ability to pass regular academic courses. Percentage of total diplomas issued last spring that were modified:

• Marshall High, Portland: 16 percent
• Madison High, Portland: 12 percent
• Roosevelt High, Portland: 11 percent
• Jefferson High, Portland: 11 percent
• Reynolds High: 10 percent
• Parkrose High: 8 percent
• Molalla High: 7 percent
• Sherwood High: 7 percent
• State average: 2.6 percent

Source: Oregon Department of Education

Reynolds High in east Portland, one of the state's biggest high schools, also awarded a disproportionate share of nonstandard diplomas, 10 percent.

House Education Chairwoman Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, decried the practice.
Schools need to hold every student to high academic standards and not use the modified diploma "as a back door to get out of having to help kids meet diploma standards," she said.

An advocate for students with disabilities and the mother of a special education student, Gelser wrote a 2007 law that aims to prevent schools from misusing modified diplomas to lower standards for students capable of earning a standard diploma. The new rules didn't cover the class of 2008, however, and start with students who enter high school this fall.

The new rules, she said, "really put schools on the hook to provide academic classes to every student all the way through school. The worst thing you can give to any kid is low expectations."

Normally, students who finish four years of high school but don't pass enough classes for a standard diploma are counted as dropouts under school accountability rules.

For example, if Marshall had played by those rules, its 2008 graduation rate -- listed officially at 58 percent -- would have been worse.

State-issued report cards on high schools and federal school ratings under No Child Left Behind both hinge in part on a school lowering its dropout rate.

Portland officials who know the most about the decisions to grant so many modified diplomas did not return phone calls Friday.

Andrea Porter, special education administrator for Portland high schools, acknowledged the district has done too little to monitor how many students are getting modified diplomas. Some students were inappropriately steered toward modified diplomas merely because they speak English as a second language -- a practice the district has now ended, she said.

She said Marshall, Madison, Roosevelt and Jefferson have a higher share of special education students than other high schools -- as high as 25 percent of their students. But Porter said most special education students should be helped through accommodations and support to earn standard diplomas.

"I can't speak to those decisions that were made" to award so many modified diplomas, Porter said. "We haven't had a system of monitoring those recommendations. ... In the future, we will have such a system in place."

Portland and other school districts are changing their practices because of Gelser's law.

Under the new rules, districts will be able to issue modified diplomas only to students with documented learning barriers that kept them from mastering grade-level academics for many years. A parent would have to sign off on the student opting for a modified diploma at least two years before the student finishes high school. And the student would need to earn 24 credits, including three in English and two each in math and science.

Profoundly disabled students who cannot meet those standards would receive an alternative certificate when they finish high school, not a diploma.
"There will have to be a lot of thought going into it and a lot of documentation to say why the student can't get the (standard) Oregon diploma," said the state Education Department's Burr.

Finally I ran into this story from the Catholic Sentinal which pretty much sums things up in my eyes...

Families Worry School for Blind Closure Looms
By Ed Langlois

For Brianna Holden-Dean, the mainstream was a sinkhole.

The 18-year-old Portland student, blind and hearing impaired from birth, was enrolled in Southridge High for two years. There, she went from having hopes for medical school to being stuck in a class with youths who have behavior problems. The bright girl missed out on key math and science. In one of her courses, she spent two semesters mostly washing tables used by peers.

Seeing her life’s dream slip, Brianna became depressed and, for the first time, pondered hurting herself.

Her family fought to have her transferred to the Oregon School for the Blind in Salem. They met resistance from Southridge officials, but endured. It turns out to have been worthwhile. After only five months in Salem, Brianna is back up to speed in math and will be taking classes at Chemeketa Community College to re-ignite her hope of becoming a pediatrician.

“All of this stuff about mainstreaming is stupid,” says Taryn Seidel-Hart, Brianna’s mother and a nurse practitioner.

Seidel-Hart, who attended the University of Portland and taught there for seven years, tried working with Southridge officials to get an aide for her daughter, large print books and software. She even offered to purchase a laptop for Brianna to use. The efforts flopped and because of school policy, the administrators could not discuss the School for the Blind as an option. Southridge teachers were frustrated that they lacked training and time to teach the girl in an appropriate way.
Stories like Brianna’s are plentiful in Oregon.

But now a bill to close the School for the Blind is advancing through the Oregon Legislature. Sponsors want to develop plans for the 31 students who live at the school, sending them to public schools and programs in their districts.

The House Education Committee passed House Bill 2834 last month. It’s now being considered by a Ways and Means subcommittee. The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis.

Gelser says the bill is not meant to save money, but to free up funds that now serve a small number of students. The money, she says, will not only follow the 31 residents, but could be reapplied to help the 840 blind and visually impaired students enrolled in home district schools.

The residents, she says, will get services equivalent to what they now receive.
The state pays $140,000 per student per year to keep the Oregon School for the Blind open.

Gelser says it has become difficult to support a school that lost its accreditation and that has a substandard building.

The bill seems likely to pass both chambers of the Legislature by the end of May, unless something big happens.

Kathy O’Malley, who attends St. Rose of Lima Parish in Portland, has two children, both of whom have a progressive disease of the retina.

Kegan, O’Malley’s 23-year-old son, was never given the option of attending the Oregon School for the Blind while attending North Clackamas Schools. Now that O’Malley’s 17-year-old daughter Kelsey has been in Salem for several years, she feels that what was done to her son is “criminal.”

“School districts don’t want to lose out on the funding they receive for special education, OSB can’t advocate for students attending another public school and employees from regional programs want to stay employed,” O’Malley says.

In contrast to the fights she waged on behalf of her son, O’Malley has been able to watch in delight as Kelsey has made “drastic progress,” with specialized services, equipment and trained staff.

“I speak from experience that the local schools do not equip these kids for the future,” O’Malley says. “Mainstreaming works for a lot of kids with disabilities but hearing-impaired or vision-impaired kids are better off being in their own environment.”

Rebecca Bergan, 20, was hit by a car 15 years ago. Her vision ebbs and flows and orientation is dicey.

The Bergans, members of St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton, tried hard to find appropriate services for Rebecca in their town. That failed.

One day at Beaverton High, staff lost track of Rebecca for an hour as she tried to find her way back from a restroom.

Ernie Bergan, Rebecca’s father, says teachers in mainstream schools lack the time and training to care for students like his daughter. At the School for the Blind, Rebecca’s progress has been “phenomenal,” he says.

“It would be like trying to abolish hospitals and put patients into care in their homes,” Ernie Bergan says of the bill to close the School for the Blind. “Some needs cannot be met at the local level.”

Closing the School For The Blind is looking more political than practical. Sara, Bob, and the rest of the “advocates” in favor of this move seem to care more about themselves than these blind students or their families.

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