NAHO Presentations Go Well

I did two presentations at the NAHO Conference in Nashville. They were both well received.

The first was on the Prehearing Process. At first blush, the work of hearing officers who do twenty hearings per day and those who do one hearing over three days would seem to have little in common. That is, until you think about it.

The second presentation was ruling on objections. Once again, the participants had a lot of fun.

The Kings of Hearing Officers again had a great annual conference.
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NAHO Conference Going Strong in Nashville

I just left an interesting session on facilitation skills for hearing officers. How does an independent hearing officer appropriately manage conflict?

The annual conference of the National Association of Hearing Officials is going strong in Nashville, Tennessee. I am enjoying making new friends as well as renewing some old acquaintances.

My session yesterday on the Prehearing Process went very well. Excellent participation during the class.

More from Nashville tomorrow.
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New Stop Added to Gerls Rock Tour

We are pleased to announce that another venue has been added to my 2010 special education law tour. I will be speaking at the Tri-State Special Education Law Conference November 4 and 5, 2010 in Omaha, Nebraska.

This prestigious conference is a joint venture of three state departments of education, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas, as well as the Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center. I had actually been contacted about speaking at this conference earlier, but I didn't want to announce it until it was final.

More details and a registration link will be added soon. This post was made from my phone while awaiting a flight on my way to the NAHO Conference in Nashville.

Ain't technology great!
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Big Changes to §504: Do They Affect Special Education - Postscript Part II

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Our recent  series on § 504 and special education examined the recent changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which automatically change provisions of §504. These changes were mentioned by multiple speakers on my summer rock tour for special education law.

One person who I asked about this was my buddy and mentor Art Cernosia.  Art and I grew up about ten miles from each other in Chicago, but we didn't meet until he was in Vermont and I was in West Virginia. He is now one of the national authorities on special ed law.  I wondered what he thought of Professor Webber's prediction that 504 would be seeing more action because of the IDEA eligibility tightening.

Art said that he thought that   § 504 would not see much of an increase in activity.  He believes that the anti-discrimination nature of the 504 FAPE requirement would be  less attractive still to parents than the more fully defined IDEA FAPE requirement.

Also, he pointed out that  the exhaustion requirement is being applied increasingly by the courts to §504 actions.  In other words, courts are requiring parents who file 504 suits to first exhaust their administrative remedies by pursuing a due process hearing under IDEA with the state education  before proceeding to court. This exhaustion requirement, he feels, will make it likely that parents will continue to file both IDEA and 504 claims together rather than 504 in lieu of IDEA.
§504 is very quickly becoming a hot button issue.   

So what do you think will §504 replace IDEA as the special education law of choice?
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Gerls Rock Tour Continues: or the Kings of Hearing Officers

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The Jim Gerl summer 2010 special education law tour continues next week. The conference is the National Association of Hearing Officials annual educational and business conference. In describing the conference last week, I described the participants as hearing officers, not just special ed but all "kings" of hearing officers.

As some of you alertly pointed out- that was a typographical error. I meant to say all "kinds" of hearing officers. But perhaps there was some hidden meaning behind slip of the keyboard.

I love NAHO. It is a great organization. The members are fantastic people. They are talented hearing officers. In fact they may be the Kings of hearing officers. I'll see what they think of the title next week

The conference will be held from September 26 - 29, 2010 in Music City, Nashville, Tennessee. I will be presenting on the prehearing process and on ruling on objections. The registration link trail begins here.

If you are in Nashville early next week, please stop by and say hello.

Big Changes to §504: Do They Affect Special Education - Postscript Part I

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I am constantly amazed by the number of high quality readers this blog attracts. Thank you - to all of you.

One such reader is Jo Anne Simon, a lawyer and professor, who advocates on behalf of parents of kids with disabilities. She recently shared with me her testimony before Congress when they were considering the ADA amendments (which also changed the eligibility requirements for §504.

She contacted me about the recent series on the changes to §504 and what they mean for the education of children with disabilities. She has some well articulated opinions.

Here is a portion of her testimony before Congress:

"Concerns that the ADAAA will compel schools to provide services to students who don’t really need them are misplaced. Whether a student has a disability and what, if any, services he needs are two distinct issues. Take the hypothetical child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder whose medication fully corrects the symptoms of his disorder. That is actually unlikely to be the case since medication does not improve deficits in working memory, processing speed, lexical access or executive functioning. However, even if medication had a completely corrective effect, that child would still be protected from discrimination based on his disability. Protection from discrimination, however, only requires the provision of services where there is a demonstrated need for those services. The ADA does not require needless service provision. The greater danger, of course, is that a child entitled to protection and perhaps in need of services, will not get them, and will not have the opportunity to learn what he could and should be learning."

You can review her comments in their entirety here.

As with anything in special education law, there are lots of viewpoints. In the next post in this postscript series, I will share some more reaction to the first posts in the series. Stay tuned.

New Poll - Will the Changes to §504 Make Parents Turn Away From IDEA?

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Big news, we have a new poll!

For those of you who regularly read this blog, you know that we occasionally ask you to venture over to the lefthand side of the blog and weigh in on a pending issue in special education law. First a cautionary note, these polls are not "scientific" in nature. They are a toll by which we gauge the feelings of readers, but all polls of this nature lack the random sample which social scientists say make any poll reliable. Moreover, we here at this blog are not experts on wording bias; in fact, we cannot resist the act of placing our tongues in our cheeks. So please do not quote the results of our polls as though they are scientific fact.

Despite all the disclaimers above, these polls can be fun. So we run them occasionally.

The current topic is will the changes to §504 make parents turn away from IDEA. We have been running a series on the changes to §504 and what they mean for the education of kids with disabilities. There are a few more posts coming about some reactions to the series. You may vote now or later, but please exercise the franchise! Be heard. Voting is open until December 19th.

Gerls Rock Tour Continues - in Nashville

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The Gerls Rock Summer 2010 special education law tour continues in a couple weeks in Nashville, Tennessee. I will be there for the annual conference of the National Association of Hearing Officials. There conferences are outstanding. They also offer a certification program which designates hearing officers as having a certain level of experience and training. I, for example, am proud to be a Certified Hearing Officer. Here is the NAHO website.

One of the things that I do is to train hearing officers and mediators. Sometimes just those working in the field of special ed; sometimes all kings of hearing officers. In this case; it's the latter. I enjoy renewing acquaintances with hos from around the country. This is a great group; and I am proud to have served on their faculty for the last six years.

The details, including the registration link are on the lefthand side of the blog. If you are a hearing officer, please register and meet me there. If not, but you will be in Nashville, please find me there. I always enjoy meeting the readers of this blog as I wind my way through this great nation.

I'm looking forward to the Nashville experience.

If Kids With Disabilities Are Not Broken, Do We Have to Change How We Teach Them?

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If kids who don't sit still are not bad kids, (Raise your hand if you ever were bad for not sitting still)and if kids who don't always focus on the lesson are not lazy, and if kids who don't read well are not stupid, do we have to change the way we teach them?

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I met Jonathan Moody at the Arizona Conference this year, and I was truly inspired by his keynote. He is an advocate of neuro-diversity. If bio-diversity is good, and if we routinely require diversity training, maybe we should look at how people learn and adapt teaching methods to the kids?

Jonathan has a learning disability and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In school he was routinely called and made to feel stupid, lazy and bad. Does this sound familiar to anybody? If some kids learn differently, they require specialized instruction, and this is the legal underpinning of special education law, but do we really get the right messages to these kids? I think that maybe we need some changes in how we think about and deliver special education.

We will have more on this soon. Jonathan Mooney has agreed to be interviewed for this blog, and believe me, he says it a lot better than I do. Please stay tuned for more on this topic.
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Big Changes to §504: Do They Affect Special Education - Part IV

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In the most recent post in this series, we examined the recent changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which automatically change provisions of §504. These changes were mentioned by multiple speakers on my summer rock tour for special education law. The big question is how these changes may affect special education.

Here again I must apologize for the tendency of the law to use the same words in multiple ways. If this confuses you, you are not alone. Both §504 and IDEA require that kiddos with a disability receive a free and appropriate public education, or FAPE. Unfortunately the definitions of FAPE are different. Get that- same word, different meanings...

To understand §504, one must remember that it is an anti-discrimination law. FAPE as defined by §504 involves a discrimination analysis. The appropriate portion of the definition requires education services designed to meet the individual education needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met. For more on §504 FAPE, see the U.S Department of Education website at this link.

The current burning question is how the changes will affect education. Most of the changes were specifically enacted to overturn Supreme Court decisions in the area of employment. So do they translate to special education? For example a child who has an impairment that substantially limits his ability to read, but not to learn, is now clearly eligible, but does he need a 504 plan? Or as to remission, if a middle school girl has cancer but it is in remission in high school, does she need any accommodations?

Another example is a child with a cochlear implant who is hearing well, does this child need accommodations to learn? What about the child who has ADHD that is well controlled by medication? Or a child who functions well with the use of an assistive technology device.

These are trickier questions than I thought at first.

School districts will have to update their forms and expand those who are eligible, but how will some of the 504 plans work? What are your thoughts?

Future posts in this series will review opinions by a national expert and some of the testimony before Congress. 504 may be developing into a hot button issue before our very eyes.

Happy Labor Day

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Labor day. It seems fitting that we have a holiday for people who work for a living.

Many people have jobs in the field of special education. Today we honor you. A participant at one of my sessions at the Arizona Conference last week made a great point. Nobody goes into special education for the money.

Sometimes we forget this point. I often deal with issues involving dispute resolution. The parents and the school personnel disagree. Many times emotion is involved. People get upset when they think that their kid's education is not going well.

But in the heat of battle, we forget that people do not go into special education to make money, or for the glamor. People go into special ed because they care about children with disabilities. There are easier and better ways to seek fame and fortune.

So please raise your glasses to all those who work in special education- Happy Labor Day!
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The Perils of Air Travel & Gerls Rock Summer 2010 Special Education Law Tour

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As I was returning from Phoenix for the third leg of the Gerls Rock Summer 2010 Special Education Law Tour, I had to once again endure the perils of modern travel. The flight to Atlanta went very well. Unfortunately, the flight out of Atlanta had issues.

The Airline monitor said plane at gate, which is always a good sign. Despite this bit of news, however, the flight was not called for boarding. About five minutes before takeoff, there was an announcement that the flight would be delayed because they could not locate the crew. The second delay announcement specified that it was the flight attendant who was missing. (Quick poll- how many think that they would have announced that it was the pilot who had vanished? I say probably not) Finally the plane boards an hour after takeoff time.

Then the captain announces that there will be another delay because the jet way attaching the gate to the plane would not move. This announcement brought audible laughter from the weary travelers.

After we finally land at my destination airport, the very tired passengers proceed to the baggage claim area where, of course, nothing happens. After a long delay, there is an announcement that there would be a delay because the conveyor belt was stuck. This announcement brought raucous laughter (we're talking belly laughs) from the by now very tired travelers. At ten after midnight, two and one-half hours after I was scheduled to land, I left the airport. (Ladies and Gentlemen - Jim Gerl has left the building.)

Really, I can't make this stuff up! I still love to travel, but sometimes it can be difficult! What stories can you share about fun at airports?

Gerls Rock Tour Continues in Arizona

My newly named Gerls Rock 2010 Tour for special education continues.

I am attending the Arizona Directors Conference. I have run into some old friends, and I met some readers for the first time.

Also, I was honored to meet the inspirational Jonathan Mooney. A former special ed student, he graduated from Brown University and he has written two books.

Jonathan also has a fresh approach to education featuring the importance of self-concept, of connection over content.

I was pleased to learn that Jonathan was a reader of this blog. He has agreed to a future interview.

More soon.
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