Happy Thanksgiving

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To all who read the special education law blog, please have a great Thanksgiving.

It's one of my favorite holidays. First, I was born on a Thanksgiving day so the day has extra special meaning. The way my mother used to tell the story began with "it was a cold winter's night..." It gets worse from there, believe me!

Second, this holiday is about giving thanks and maybe thinking of those who are less fortunate. It's hard to argue with those noble goals. I am truly blessed and have a whole lot to be thankful for.  I know that times are tough for many, but I am an optimist and I firmly believe that things will get better for our economy soon.

So count your blessings, have some Turkey and enjoy the holiday.
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Is Online Education For Real? New GAO Study!

David M. Walker (U.S. Comptroller General)Image via Wikipedia
I have always wondered if online education is for real.  Although I am a digital immigrant, I have been a fan of the new technologies.  This blog has dragged me kicking and screaming into the twenty first century.

But my doubts about virtual education continue.  How do I know that people actually attend online classes.  How do I know that a particular student is taking an online quiz himself?  The lawyer in me is trained to be skeptical...

Well I guess the answer is that it depends upon which online school is doing the educating!  A new study has been released by the federal Government Accountability Office.  With all of the gusto of a "sting" operation, the GAO sent students undercover to attend 15 online colleges.  Of the 15, 8 passed with flying colors.  The other 7 colleges showed mixed results.

Here is an excerpt from the summary of the report regarding academic performance:
GAO's students engaged in substandard academic performance by using one or more of the following tactics: failure to attend class, failure to submit assignments, submission of objectively incorrect assignments, submission of unresponsive assignments, and plagiarism. At 6 colleges, instructors acted in a manner consistent with school policies in this area, and in some cases attempted to contact students to provide help outside of class. One or more instructors at 2 colleges repeatedly noted that the students were submitting plagiarized work, but no action was taken to remove the student. One or more instructors at the 4 remaining colleges did not adhere to grading standards. For example, one student submitted photos of celebrities and political figures in lieu of essay question responses but still earned a passing grade.

You can read the GAO report summary here

You can read the entire GAO study here.

As always, choose your school wisely!

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Correction Re CADRE Conference Report- Hearing Officers and Special Education

This calling card was the identifying graphic ...Image via Wikipedia

I need to make a correction.

The post I issued a while back about the great sessions at the recent CADRE Conference in Eugene Oregon included a report on the fantastic update on special education law by my new friend Barbara Bateman.  I got most of it right, but one quote added a word.  Barb had said that special education hearing officers know very little about special education and don't seem interested in learning.  I unfortunately added the word "law" after special education.  Barb concedes that they know the law; they just don't really know special education.

The corrected quote makes a lot more sense than my incorrect version.  As Barb had explained, the reason under general principles of administrative law, courts defer to hearing officers because administrative agencies have substantive expertise in the subject area involved.  She suggests that the expertise is not apparent in special ed hearings.

Fortunately Barb reads this blog and she helped me to get this one right.  Thanks Barb.  What a great session at an excellent conference.  Also thanks to the many readers who are interested in this topic.

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Live From Santa Fe ... It's Cold

The NAHO conference is under way in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It snowed here last night.

My session on how to conduct an administrative hearing went very well. There was a lot of participation. I explained my Eight Rules, and I illustrated how my powers are beyond your comprehension.

The lunch keynote was an interesting address by the Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court on the history of the territorial courts. He explained how Alternative Dispute Resolution in New Mexico has included duels with pistols and other forms of negotiation.

This is the final stop on the Jim Gerl 2011 tour! What a great year.

This post was made entirely with my phone!
Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device from U.S. Cellular

CADRE Conference Featured Excellent Sessions

The recent CADRE National Symposium on Dispute Resolution in Special Education in Eugene, Oregon featured many excellent sessions.  I presented at two sessions: a 90 minute breakout on training and certification requirements for hearing officers and mediators; and a three hour professional development session on the differences between the various dispute resolution options.  The sessions were well attended and the participants were very involved and engaged in the sessions.  Photographic evidence is provided above.

I also attended a number of fantastic sessions.  As usual, the staff at CADRE found great presenters for this conference.  The best and the brightest people in the field of special education dispute resolution were on hand.  Of the sessions I attended, one of my favorites was an update on special ed law by my new friend Barb Bateman.  Barb is a parent's lawyer and a distinguished author.  She provided a thorough review of recent caselaw.  Two points she made were very interesting to me.
After Barb noted the increase in the number of eligibility cases in the last few years, I asked if she thought that the number of eligibility cases reflects a back door attempt to deal with the recent bad economic conditions.  Her answer was "absolutely."  I have asked that question of a number of people, and I rarely get such a direct answer.

Barb also spoke about dispute resolution.  She said that dispute resolution in special education at the hearing level was not very good.  She discussed the administrative law principle that the large caseloads of the courts are reduced by permitting administrative hearings before agency personnel who have expertise in the subject matter.  Because of the expertise in subject matter, courts generally defer to the findings of the agency hearing officer. She said that IDEA hearing officers and ALJs, though, often don't know special education law and don't seem to want to learn it.  Wow!  Powerful stuff.

There were many other thought-provoking and helpful sessions.  Once again CADRE put on a great conference.    
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CADRE Conference Keynote- Mediation as Engagement Rather than Resolution

I have been raving about the recent CADRE conference, and so have the other participants whom I have spoken with.  It was an excellent conference for many reasons.  One that I have not discussed in detail  so far is the keynote sessions.  As usual, CADRE recruited top-notch professionals in dispute resolution to share some wisdom at the conference.  All were excellent.

My favorite though was Professor Bernie Mayer of Creighton University.  He talked about enduring conflict.  Any wonder why this topic might resonate with special ed folks? He made some very interesting and provocative points.  He suggested that we might move away from more traditional models of conflict: resolution or transformation.  Instead for enduring conflict he suggested that we shift our focus to engagement.  By this he means helping people engage with difficult issues in as constructive a way as possible.  (I don't know what other special education mediators think, but this kind of sounds like what we do.)

He suggested that we focus on engagement and confront avoidance.  He advocates framing the issue for the long term and establishing durable patterns of communication.

He said that we need to change our narrative from prevention to anticipation, from management to support and from resolution to engagement.  He suggested that we consider asking a different question: instead of- what can we do to resolve or deescalate this conflict? he suggested asking -  How can we help people prepare to engage with this issue over time?

He also said something that has never occurred to me and at first was surprising.  He suggested that at times our role might even be to escalate conflict. One doesn't hear mediators use such language.  But as I think about the statement, it to resonates.  Avoidance of some enduring issues is not good; escalation may be a much better way to go.  

I'd be interested in the reactions of other mediators to these thought provoking ideas.

Finally here is definitive proof that the conference was in fact held in Eugene.  This is a photo of me eating a seaweed cookie substance called smart food! Please add your own punchline here......
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Big News from OSEP on Resolution Session

Seal of the United States Department of EducationImage via Wikipedia
As we mentioned in previous posts, OSEP, a division on the U S Department of Education issued a big announcement at the CADRE conference.  In the past OSEP had taken the position that local education agencies (school districts, some charter schools, etc) had to convene a resolution meeting within fifteen days of the filing of a due process complaint in every case even where the parent could not attend.  Also State Education Agencies were being required to ding LEAs with findings of non-compliance whenever they did not hold such a resolution meeting.

At the big CADRE Symposium in Eugene, Oregon last week, OSEP announced a change in this policy.  The new interpretation is as follows:

Although the general rule is that the LEA must convene a resolution meeting within fifteen days of the filing of a complaint by a parent, an LEA does not need to convene a resolution meeting within fifteen days of the filing where the parent says that they cannot attend the meeting.  It is unreasonable to require an LEA to convene a re4solution meeting without the parent being present. The LEA must continue to make reasonable efforts throughout the thirty day resolution period to schedule a resolution meeting and the LEA must document its offers of multiple dates and times and the parents unavailability (including detailed records of telephone conversations, copies of written correspondence, and/or visits to the parents home  or place of employment.)

OSEP made it clear that the general rule is that the resolution meeting will be held by the LEA within fifteen days of the filing of a due process complaint by a parent and that the situation described above is the exception.  The reason for the change of interpretation is that it is that the purpose of the resolution meeting is to resolve the dispute and it is not possible to resolve the dispute without the parent present.  Accordingly, it is not reasonable to require a resolution meeting when the parent cannot attend.

The formal OSEP interpretation will be included in an official Question & Answer document to be issued in the future.  I received an oral go-ahead to make this information public at the CADRE conference and I double-checked the information stated above in a telephone call this week. 
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CADRE Conference Big Success

Powell Plaza at Hayward Field - Eugene, OregonImage via Wikipedia
I have returned from the big CADRE National Symposium on Dispute resolution in Special Education in Eugene, Oregon. It was a great conference.

We will have additional posts about the conference.  The keynote speakers made us think.  The sessions were fantastic and it was good to see the usual suspects.  Plus big news from OSEP on the requirement of the resolution session.

It was also great to meet a number of readers of this blog.  Many people who regularly use the blog introduced themselves.  The prize for originality goes to an attendee who asked if I was Jim Gerl, and then introduced herself by saying that she wakes up with me a few times a week.  When I finished stuttering, she said that she reads her email in bed on her laptop first thing every morning.  Because she takes advantage of the free email subscription to this blog, there I am.  There are less stressful ways, but I always enjoy meeting our readers.

More posts on the Symposium to follow.
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