SLP Toolkit Podcast, Episode 27, Transcript
Sarah 00:10 Hey Lisa.
Lisa 00:38 Hi, Sarah.
Sarah 00:39 Normally I say that, you know, it’s not like I haven’t seen you in a while, but I actually haven’t seen you in awhile.
Lisa 00:43 I know it’s been very weird. Do I still look pretty?
Sarah 00:45 You do, yes. It’s really good to see you live and in person.
Lisa 00:49 Sweet.
Sarah 00:49 But now we’ve got somebody actually who’s virtually with us here too. Do you want to introduce him?
Lisa 00:54 Yes. I’m super excited today because I feel like our guest today, this conversation is going to be awesome because his name is Lloyd Donders. Did I say that right?
Lloyd 01:05 You absolutely did.
Lisa 01:06 There we go. But my favorite part of his name? Esquire.
Sarah 01:12 Lisa loves that title. She used to call me Esquire back in the day when we were first starting out and I wore all the hats, including attorney.
Lisa 01:19 And I also put it when I used to book our flights on Southwest and you can pick a title. Sarah was often Esquire and sometimes DDS, you never knew what she was going to get. But I’m so super happy to have you here today. So we can talk about probably one of the things that strikes the fear– puts fear in the heart of every IEP team member; having an attorney at a meeting. So we’re going to hopefully alleviate some of those fears today. Let’s just start out a little bit– can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into special education law in particular?
Lloyd 01:55 Sure. So I’ve been practicing in special education probably for about six years now. I’ve been an attorney for close to 20 years. I got into it like many do, I have a child with special needs. So I actually was fighting for my child before I knew anything really about special education law. But it was a big learning curve and I was able and continued thankfully to get him what he needs or at least what we think he needs. And going through this as an attorney just made me really realize that there’s so many people out there. So many parents who don’t know what their children are entitled to, and sometimes the schools don’t either. But you know, the parents just don’t know what they can push for and they often accept what’s true from the schools, so I really started getting into this. I’m in New York, I don’t know if I mentioned that and I do a lot of work with underrepresented children in New York City, which has been very rewarding. So I’ve been able to do a lot with that and New York City, the largest population of students, and has over 200,000 children with IEP’s. So it definitely keeps me busy.
Lisa 03:10 When you say you work a lot with underrepresented children. What do you mean by that?
Lloyd 03:14 So basically the parents who just can’t afford my fees. You may not have heard but attorneys can be expensive. So what the beautiful thing about how special education law works is we have what’s called fee shifting, which basically means that if I take a child’s case and I go to a hearing and I prevail, and I get the child what he or she needs, I can actually get my fees paid for by the district. So that really allows me to reach out to parents and to reduce my fees significantly. Or in some instances, not even charge them anything for cases, especially that are the most egregious. And it takes me a while to get paid, but I do eventually get paid and I can help kids that would never be able to get the services that they get. So it’s a great–
Lisa 04:03 Well, and I will say a big bulk of my work in an elementary school in Arizona was at a school that was 99% free and reduced lunch. And so I know with those families, it was kind of like a split kind of sword where they so appreciated everything you were doing for their children, but they weren’t always the best advocates because I’m not sure that they had the knowledge or information. Even though we’re giving it to them in pamphlets and trying to help advocate and educate their child. We were doing what we thought was best for the child, but I did feel like there weren’t as many questions or weren’t as many things being pushed forward in that kind of setting as some of the other schools in our school district that had parents that were pushing and pushing back at the IEP team.
Lloyd 04:54 Sure. Yeah. And honestly, I mean, I still see that. I mean, you definitely see that with more– if you will sophisticated or a little bit more worldly parents, usually more affluent. But there are plenty of attorney parents that I speak to that still feel overwhelmed in this area and they just don’t know where to go and they feel actually very sheepish when they talk about it. But so it applies to everyone. It isn’t just the parents that don’t have that experience. It’s interesting.
Sarah 05:26 Yeah, it’s really true. I had an experience with having a sibling that went through the process of having IEPs and my mom having to go to those meetings. And then later in life, as we were talking about it. She’s an educated woman, she runs her own business and she would sit in those meetings and she would just nod because she had no idea what they were talking about. And so she just assumed these are the experts, they’re doing what’s right for her son. And she just would agree to things. And so that’s one thing I always kept in the back of my mind in IEP meetings– to make sure that we’re being very cautious about the terms we’re using, the language we’re using, that we’re being very inclusive of the parents and making them feel very much a part of the team. Cause I thought I never wanted anybody to walk away from a meeting feeling like that, you know?
Lloyd 06:14 Yeah. And actually it’s interesting that you’re saying that. A lot of the parents that I speak to– and I’m not a very litigious attorney, which sounds kind of funny. But I don’t push litigation all the time. There’s plenty of it out there that I don’t really have to push it. But I’ve been doing this long enough, so I kind of know how things usually go. And actually maybe people who work in the schools probably don’t understand this, but very often the parents that come to me, these are not parents who got upset about one IEP meeting. Okay? This is building, this is building. And often what happens is I’ll have a parent set up a consultation with me and they’ll say, you know, my child is falling behind not getting what he or she needs. The school says they’re giving him what he needs and yada, yada, yada, he’s sort of making a little bit of progress. And I talk to them and I’m like, yeah, well, they need to be doing X, Y, and Z. And often the parent will say, yeah, but I think I’m just going to try to stick it out and see what happens. And I say to them, look, I completely understand, here’s my card. I said, you’re going to be calling me in two or three years. And you’re going to be saying, “Lloyd those S-O whatevers, I can’t believe what they’re doing to my kid. They hate him, then this.” And that’s just what happens. Unfortunately– sometimes it doesn’t– but often that’s what happens. It’s progress or not progress really, it’s just a natural way that things flow. So by the time the parents are coming to me, they’ve got years under their belt of just feeling dissatisfied and anger. So that’s when I’m really getting involved. And that’s often when the schools are getting real pushback. So that’s what you are going to be seeing.
Lisa 07:59 So the majority of your cases then are kids that are already identified as being eligible and special education, or do you get your aunts that are pushing to have their child qualified? Or is it a healthy mix of both?
Lloyd 08:14 Right. Well, I think a lot of this is going to also depend upon the state. In New York there’s less of an issue. It’s been my experience. There’s less of an issue with identification. It definitely still happens, but New York tends to identify their kids more frequently than I think other states, from what I hear. So usually it has to do with what services they’re getting. So how much service are they getting? How many sessions a week are they getting? Are they getting specialized reading instruction? Or even beyond that, certainly, does this child need an out of district placement, a private school? So that’s more about what I see. Less with the actual identification, but we do get some in New York. Definitely.
Lisa 09:00 Well and I think too, here in Arizona, our identification is very loose in terms of– I know like, I think it’s California that says you have to have two tests that are one and a half standard deviations below the mean. And in Arizona it’s just, is there a disability? Is there an adverse educational impact? And is it only correctable with special education? So I feel like that gives us a lot of flexibility as a team that– sometimes you’ll see, even in our speech language forums that are on Facebook groups where people are like, “I can’t believe they qualified a kid because they got an 84 on the CELF.” And I’m like, but that’s still below average, and that still can have a significant impact on that child’s performance in the classroom. So that score, in addition to other data being presented to the team–
Sarah 09:46 Well even if you have a standardized score of something like an 87, that technically is in that average range, you can still make the qualifying decisions based on again, their impact.
Lisa 09:57 Depending on the state you’re in, because there are some states that have it very spelled out. And I’m curious, I know you had– before we had actually started recording, you had shared a statistic with us about averages and percentage of students that are found eligible. Could you share that with us again?
Lloyd 10:14 Sure. So, nationally it’s about 13% of American students are classified as needing an IEP. And the reason I pointed that out is because you do have some fluctuation. For instance, Texas has had a lot of issues and they were at like eight or eight and a half percent. But they were also accused by the federal government of keeping their rates artificially low. And I won’t get into exactly why that is, but when you look at 8% versus 13%– say what you will about Texas, they’re not that different from the rest of the country. So right now they’re (unintelligible) for it.
Lisa 10:53 Population though, because I know that we can get dinged in special education as well for over-identifying as far as Spanish speaking students. So I wonder if that would be a huge influence in a state like Texas, where they’re trying to maybe over-correct that. And that could possibly impact.
Lloyd 11:09 Well it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. And also, I mean, the government’s looked into it and there’ve been– like one of the local newspapers looked into new investigations, and none of that would be attributable to why there’s such a huge decrease. So now they just have a huge number of evaluations going on. But now in New York, I do a lot of work in New York City, identification is about 20%. So it’s a big difference. And some say that’s too much. Some people say it’s too little. You know, we can kind of discuss that, but whatever it is, all I can say is a child that’s identified is more likely to get the services that they need. So that’s what I look at.
Lisa 11:50 I had a special educator that kind of always likened it to that eligibility piece is your golden ticket into that individualized education. So then it doesn’t matter what your actual eligibility that the label is on your MET report. It’s just once you get that, everything should then be personalized around the needs of that student. And I kind of– we would get into discussions, especially if you have students that are SLI or speech only, speech language only, and then they would have something like a math need. And so we would have pushback from SLPs that were like, well, I’m not working or teaching math. Kind of how we framed it is, it’s not that you’re teaching math. That student is identified as special education, this is the identified need. So we have to make sure we’re meeting that need and that the need is getting met by the interventions they’re doing in general education. It may mean that your team needs to come together and look and see why that is happening. So it’s super– I think the whole thing, even as we were talking about how there are parents that aren’t always super savvy about the whole process. I think of my evolution from when I started to where I’m at now and still have a ton more to learn and grow, but I did get to learn a lot more throughout the course of being an SLP for 20 years, that if you would have asked me early in my career, I would have not had any answers or even know how to respond, where to go or what even makes sense. It’s tricky.
Lloyd 13:25 Yeah. And yeah, I actually just wanted to sort of get back to you talking about the CELF and how the scores 84, 87. The only thing I would want to point out is that– and this comes from the IDEA the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law, as well as federal guidance. CSE should not be relying on any one test. So, if you’re talking about, I don’t know, let’s say vocabulary and the CELF and you’re looking at an 85, which is right on what you consider the cutoff, but then you’re looking at the Woodcock Johnson, the vocabulary is a different number. And then you’re also getting feedback from the teacher saying, I’m not seeing this issue or I am seeing it. You have to take all that into account. And just looking at one score is not allowed. You shouldn’t be doing it, it’s not good practice. Certainly, some kids do better on some exams– and you will know better than I do as far as, some are better with writing and they’ll come out more with vocabulary. Some are better visually. So you really need to look at all of them to get a complete picture.
Sarah 14:29 Yeah. There was something in a Facebook group that we’re a part of for school based SLPs, that’s coming out about the CELF-5 and some kind of negative– and I haven’t done enough research to be able to attest to it very much, but that maybe it’s not doing a great job of qualifying students. That maybe it’s not doing a good enough job of showing that there is an actual need in some of those areas. And so beyond that, even if the test was solid and the interpretation of it was fantastic– we know and we preach this all the time, you’ve got to have more information than just that standardized assessment. Obviously informal screening measures and language sampling. And like you said, homework samples and what the teacher’s showing you.
Lisa 15:13 Observation.
Sarah 15:13 Observation, all of those things are involved in those determinations.
Lisa 15:19 But that’s sometimes what I see when we worked in the largest district in Arizona, and sometimes when we would get requests for outside evaluations, all they would do is a laundry list of standardized tests. And to me, that’s just as bad as giving one standardized test. And I don’t want to have a battery of 20 standardized tests, that doesn’t give me all the information either. I want all of that other information that you just had talked about, all of that scripted informal stuff, because that’s really what holistically shows how that student can put it together in other–
contextualized ways. Yeah. Lloyd 15:56 It’s important. Definitely. So I just wanted to make sure that that sort’s of out there as well.
Sarah 16:01 I’m glad you brought that up.
Lloyd 16:01 You’re not supposed to have those firm cutoffs of like, oh, it has to be one and a half standard deviations. There’s also rules against that as well. It shouldn’t be that formalized.
Lisa 16:11 So how do states get away with that? Because I see that all the time and even the Facebook groups– and I don’t know why California is coming to mind. I feel like they’re a state that does that, but there are other states that do have that as part of their eligibility requirements.
Lloyd 16:26 Right. I don’t know the other states do. I mean, I look at the– obviously I know the most about New York state and that tends to be, it seems a very liberal state. We have a lot of education laws and it’s sort of the best for– well, I shouldn’t say the best, but one of the better ones for special education. But even the federal law says that you’re not supposed to do this, or they start looking at that whole idea of discrepancy, the difference between cognitive versus achievement that the federal law says that you’re not supposed to do this. You’re not supposed to require it. But then I see some states, they still have it in their regulations. And I don’t know how they get away with it. Maybe they don’t get challenged as much. But I don’t know, but it’s not supposed to be.
Sarah 17:12 Yeah. We did a podcast episode last year about some articulation norms and qualifying students that have speech sound disorders primarily, and she said the same thing just about the difference in state laws and how much it varies across the board. And I always find that interesting when there’s IDEA, you know? why there is any discrepancy on what it is that we’re doing as far as qualifying students.
Lisa 17:40 But that’s part of where you live, like everything we’ve always talked about. Like when I worked in our district here, they would talk about how there are certain states that are very big on leaving the control with the LEA’s, with those local education agencies. And so the laws that filter down is the interpretation of that federal law. And then it filters down through the state law and that’s kind of how those get set up. And so I know Arizona is one where the LEA’s don’t want to be told what to do so they give a lot of local control. And that’s why it can even be, not even the variance from state to state, but within a city.
Lloyd 18:16 Definitely. Yeah, you’ll see that. And also, you don’t have very many impartial hearings out there. New York, we have a huge number of them and why is that? Is it because we sue so much in New York? Well, that might be part of it. I don’t know, I have to admit. But part of it also is because you can do something, because we have hearing officers that are pretty knowledgeable with the facts. And it’s still an uphill battle for parents, but at least they know if they spend the money, they have a pretty decent chance of having some success. That’s why we have so many hearings and that has an effect on the law and how schools also have to enforce it. Because they do know that there’s always a possibility of being taken to hearing and a lot of other states, they don’t have that as much. And I hear horror stories about other states and how that works.
Sarah 19:07 And then when you’re describing the number of hearings that causes me horror. Because I’m coming from the other side of the table, we talked about this a little bit before, nobody wants to hear those words, that the attorney’s come to the meeting. Or an advocate’s coming to the meeting, or we’re going to due process or where there’s going to be a hearing. And so from that angle, how do we avoid it? What is it? What’s the main thing that’s causing it to get to this point and what is it that we need to be doing? Because I really do think that I don’t know a single team I have ever worked with that is wanting to be, what’s the word I’m trying to say? Like their goal is not to not provide the best services for students.
Lisa 19:53 How can we be proactive versus reactive, I think is what you’re asking. And then even in the situation, not only how can we avoid it, but if it does come up, what are some ways that we can make the process smoother for everyone involved?
Lloyd 20:06 Sure. So I probably will start with– well, first of all, if that’s the way you’re feeling in your schools, that’s great. Because I do deal with a lot of schools and speech and language therapists and school psychologists who don’t– let’s just say they have some conflicts as far as the constituencies. And though they want what’s best for the child, there’s some cost constraints as well. And even though schools are not supposed to take that into consideration, they do. And I have seen, and I have heard from professionals in the schools who feel handicapped by the special education chair person about not giving out services. So it does happen. I’m not gonna say it happens all the time, but to say that it doesn’t happen at all is not true. But that being said about what you can do, it’s probably best to go through what I look for in a case, and that’s the easiest way. So I mean, basically when you’re putting together an IEP, and obviously with focusing on the speech language, everything always starts with the evaluations. Always. Because you don’t know what to do with a child until you know the strengths and weaknesses. So the first thing I want to see is what does the evaluation look like? Are you looking at other standardized tests? Is there a classroom observation? Feedback from the teachers? I’m looking at all these evaluations to see, do we have a good sense as to what the strengths and weaknesses are?
Lisa 21:44 Not just scores? That’s what I do.
Lloyd 21:47 Those matter, but not just scores, definitely. The thing I like about scores of course, is that it gets rid of a lot of the subjectivity. So they are important. But I should say also putting together the IEP, it should go through this particular process. So you start with your strengths and weaknesses through the evaluations, and then once you identify the weaknesses, of course, then you have to identify the goals. What are your goals? Okay. A child’s reading two years behind. So within a one year, you want to see them reading only one year behind. Ideally a little bit less than one year, cause you want to try to narrow the gap. So what are the goals? Are they realistic? Are they ambitious? That’s kind of getting to Andrew F, which we’ll get to later. And are they measurable? So you want realistic goals that are measurable, and you want to be able to have progress reports that you can actually see what kind of progress the child’s making, because goals are meaningless unless you can actually see if you’re making them. So that’s the next step that I’m looking at. The third step is saying, okay, so we have these goals, how do we get the child to meet those goals? So that’s when you start looking at your aides and supports and the actual special education that we think of. Accommodations, speech and language, you need to have individual therapy. Can you have group therapy? How many times a week? How much time each? Accommodations you need, assistive technology, how are we going to help this child meet these goals? That’s what I’m looking at.
Lisa 23:22 So it’s not cookie cutter and looks like the same services provided to every other student that may have different needs. Likely. Every student has different needs from one another.
Lloyd 23:31 Because of course special education has to be individualized, specialized for the unique child. So that’s what I’m looking for. Does that make sense? So then once we have that, you basically at that point once you have all the accommodations and that’s your program, okay? That’s the P in IEP, the individualized education program. Once you have that program, the last step is where’s the location of that program? So is that going to be done in the school? is that going to be done in 12 to one? Or collaborative class or whatever, or does the child have such needs that it has to be done in a private school? But whatever it is, it’s still that program it’s just where is that program going to happen? So it’s that whole process. Okay. So then once we do that, then what I’m looking for from year to year is, okay, did this child meet his goals? Did they make progress toward his goals? If the child didn’t meet his goals, then I’m looking at did the supports change? Okay. So let’s say you had a child that was supposed to make a year’s progress in reading and the child was getting two times a week in speech and language for 30 minutes. And that child didn’t make very much progress, but then the next year, the child still has the same goals and still has that same level of support. Then I start to say, well, you know, if it didn’t work one year, what makes you think it’s going to work the next year? And you might–
Lisa 25:03 That was the (unintelligible) Andrew case, that was the huge thing in that case.
Lloyd 25:05 And you start getting these recycled goals as well. And the supports, like they say about the definition of being crazy. Exactly. And that’s what I’m looking for. I mean, other things I’m looking for– do goals just all of a sudden miraculously vanish? That happens, right? Oh, what happened to the goal? You know, looking under the table, where’d they go? Where did it go?
Lisa 25:32 No, but if they explain why, so I think this is my thing that I always see with teams is they come at it with good intentions. You know, most people come at it with what they think is right. And it could be that a goal disappears because you felt like maybe it was too ambitious. And we had data to support that we tried all of this different stuff and weren’t able to get there. So we need to take it back and do something else. But if you just go to that next IEP, and there is no transition of where that thought came from and no explanation and no data that supports that, that’s where I think teams can get in trouble. Because things can go out the window. I mean–
Sarah 26:09 But he’s saying that the goal just disappears, like it is never talked about again.
Lloyd 26:14 Right. No explanation. It’s like they had these writing goals and all of a sudden they’re gone. It’s like, oh so the child never has to write again? What is this? But you’re right. I mean, there might be a reason for it, but you need to have an explanation.
Lisa 26:26 Right. And that’s the hardest part. I think that even I found when I used to have to go to a lot of these meetings because I was the lead in our district. And that was my takeaway in these meetings is that people would present information about lots of “I thinks, I wants,” and not just the IEP team. Sometimes we got that from the parents, from the advocates, from the attorneys, just depending on who was, you know, present in that meeting. And I know, like I even worked in a school district once where a kid got a purple leather rocking chair. I talk about this in one of our presentations that we do just because it was requested by the advocate or attorney and the family and the district didn’t want to push back. So, my thoughts are that if we have these explanations, that’s where people get in trouble is if you’re just like, this is what it is, because I think it is because I’m the expert and I’m the professional. And that goes on both sides of the table that we really need to be looking at the data. We really need to be looking at the child and have that information. Let’s try this, because this is what the data shows. And then like you were saying, if there’s no progress after a quarter, then let’s look at that and say, well, why isn’t there? Is it because we’re still working on underlying skills? Well, let’s put that in the progress report that that’s where we’re at, that we want to get to that goal in a year, but we’re right here. Or maybe we need to change how we’re providing our instruction. Maybe we need to change the frequency, but we can’t just wait that entire year to have those conversations. So that’s where I think you get into the like, surprise! Surprise, it’s gone and that’s not good for anyone.
Lloyd 28:07 No. And I think a lot of these things, like you’re saying and it makes complete logical sense, right? It just does. and a lot of times people think well you attorneys are just nitpicking, you’re going after this and that, but we’re going after the things that make sense. Like, yeah, there’s a lot of deference that goes towards school psychologists and is given to the school’s speech and language therapists. There’s a lot of deference that go toward their expertise, but we don’t just accept what they say as fact. Like they have to have something behind it. They have to show that they put thought into it, that there was consideration and at some point that it just isn’t crazy, for lack of a better word, you know?
Sarah 28:53 No, we talk about this all the time. Coming from a place of like, I’m the first to throw myself under a bus. And just how I’ve evolved through the years, just because of my experience. But we have great schooling and we get a lot of theory. And then we come into the rural world and especially when you go into a school system, and now you’re dealing with IEPs and paperwork. It’s very different than being a private therapist. And it just rocks your world a little bit. And then you’re trying to manage these large case loads and all of these other things. And so something’s got to give, and so I know when I would walk into meetings, I felt like I knew these children, or these students that I was working with. And I felt like I was on the right page with it. But if you would ask for data to back it up, I would’ve panicked. I would have panicked because I have had that evidence.
Lisa 29:42 We actually have a worksheet that we share that we call a meaningful IEP worksheet. Let’s see if we can attach it to this episode as well. But it’s kind of taking that, as far as what is your data as far as what you have on the student? What is the data you’re getting from the teacher and the parents? So what are the strengths and needs? And then if you have a need, how are you addressing that? Is it specially designed instruction where you’re mapping out goals? And how much time do you think you need to work on those goals? Or is it accommodations, maybe something you could work with the teacher on? And so I always liked-
Sarah 30:16 Direct support, indirect support.
Lisa 30:16 having that because I could really map out my thinking. And again, do I do this necessarily for– if I have a student that is a single sound articulation error, and I have a lot of clinical experience that I know I can get the student moving based on prior experience. And then if it doesn’t work out as planned, I would reassess that. But my complex students, I loved going through a framework like that because I did feel like it was individualized. There was thought, and I would bring that sheet into a meeting even, and it was about that data. It wasn’t about me or what I think necessarily. It’s like, this is where these recommendations are coming from. And that was a lot better received by teams in that sense than just a no, it’s this because he needs it. It’s a hard sell for some people.
Lloyd 31:05 It is, cause it’s a lot of extra work, but I can tell you if a child is not making progress– and of course this is always coming down to a child’s not making progress. The child was doing great– I mean, if you’re not keeping records, it doesn’t do me any good cause it’s like no harm, no foul. But if a child’s not doing well, I’m going to be saying, well, what do the progress reports say? Show me your report. Show me the assessments that you’ve been doing on the child. I want to see emails. I want to see dates on them. I don’t want to just see that it was something two days before an IEP meeting, because that’s not good enough. And you see this, you know? and honestly, I mean, what I would say is, especially if you’re dealing with an attorney, you don’t want to lie to them either and cover up. Because they find out and when they do, they don’t take very kindly to being lied to, that’s for sure.
Lisa 31:52 He’s esquire, seriousness. I think of Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure every time I say that.
Sarah 31:58 Esquire Bill and esquire Ted?
Lloyd 32:03 I mean, I have to tell you when I go to a hearing– I understand that therapists are busy in school, so I don’t hold anything against them. I don’t give them a hard time. I ask some questions, I may ask some tougher questions, but the only time I ever get a little tougher, if you will, is if I find that they’re lying to me. Or the other thing that’s sort of a pet peeve is if– and it’s not so much the speech language, but more school psychologist, if I feel like they’re covering up some sort of a bullying issue. That’s another thing that sort of gets to me. And those are the times when I really will back a lot harder. But if it’s just a speech and language person who’s sort of overwhelmed or you know, is trying their best and they just– even if they messed up, I don’t push them on that. I mean, I’ll bring that out of them, but I’m not going to be nasty about it.
Lisa 32:56 Well, and that whole thing is growth. That’s what we’re talking about is like, I feel like through those experiences, you’re like, oh crap, I really didn’t have the data for this. And that is something I really need to focus on. That even though I think this is best, this is what I need to do moving forward with my students.
Sarah 33:11 And what I was going to say about that too is our caseload sizes and paperwork requirements. That’s not the student’s fault. Nor should anything be taken away from that student because of it. And so this is a whole other conversation and argument that needs to be had about the caseload sizes that we’re given and workload and all of those other things that need to be taken into consideration. And that’s up to the district.
Lisa 33:33 It’s not 1980 anymore and that’s what I think is tricky
Sarah 33:36 We can’t use that excuse that we’re just really, really busy and overwhelmed.
Lisa 33:39 But you do have directors that are still in that mentality that it’s 30 years ago. So the recommendations– which what’s kind of funny is the recommendations that even from our old district, there used to be like eight hours of built-in evaluation time and shared workload a week. And if you had over 45 students, people would lose their shit because it was like, how could you ever see more than that? But then what happened is the demands for, you know, through law and Ida and everything, how that’s evolved has evolved the role that we play in the school setting. But when you have directors that are still kind of have that, “oh, well, we’ll just make it work.” And then they keep piling on and on and on. It’s a problem.
Sarah 34:19 It’s a problem.
Lloyd 34:20 I mean, one thing I would suggest is that some states in their laws actually have maximum numbers of students that providers can work with. I know New York state definitely has this. I know Michigan does. So you can look at that too. I mean–
Lisa 34:37 We’re moving is what you’re saying.
Sarah 34:39 Yeah, we’re moving to another state.
Lisa 34:40 I said we’re moving.
Sarah 34:42 No, we always stick with a cap.
Lisa 34:43 We actually presented last year, at the New York City Department of Ed and the Queens districts. And when we heard about– cause we were talking about caseload sizes, which on average in Arizona are what? 65 to 70.
Sarah 34:54 65 to 70 is probably average.
Lisa 34:54 Some people have over a hundred on their caseload. So when they were saying that their case loads were in the forties we’re like, shh, don’t tell anybody.
Sarah 35:02 Don’t tell anybody.
Lisa 35:03 Don’t tell anybody you have it so good here. It all impacts, you know. And we’re working out, we’re trying, I think that’s a slow process too, because again, that is state by state.
Sarah 35:18 Right, yeah. We can’t fix that part overnight, but giving them tools and stuff to try to help them collect that data is critically important to us because we do– I think our number one mission is always doing best practice for students. Like what it’s always about, that student, you know? But again I’ve had plenty of sleepless nights knowing that I’m maybe not doing the best I can for a student. I think we all have come into this profession to serve and to make a difference. And then sometimes we’re working with students where maybe it’s not in our area of expertise, or maybe we don’t have the tools we need, or lots of things come into play with that. So I love this conversation because I think it was just about giving a different perspective that you’re not out there looking for every single thing somebody is doing wrong and just wanting to cause tension and conflict.
Lisa 36:11 Come in like a wrecking ball, I have dealt with some advocates that are just wrecking balls and they do their profession because they love the tiger kind of aspect. And I would sit in some of those meetings, I’m like, this is not benefiting anybody but yourself. You’re not working for the student right now. So that does exist. I’ve been in those meetings too, but really I think it comes down to the families and the student. And I was telling Sarah before we recorded today that I can remember years ago sitting in a meeting where the whole team was making these recommendations, besides the parents, that the school team was making these recommendations and the parents came back and they just were not having what the team was recommending. And I felt like we were making good recommendations based on data, but I went home and I was kind of venting to a family member and they’re like, but you’re the expert. How could the family? And I go, okay, I’m venting right now. Let me just say that all that I just said was venting because if I was sitting at a table and I had 15 people telling me that they thought something that I didn’t about my student, I mean about my child, that’s the kind of frame I would always try to bring into those meetings is that ultimately this is a parent concerned for their child and any parent, whether it be in this kind of scenario or a different scenario, that’s what you do. That’s your job is to protect and advocate for your child. So, you know, and sometimes we need backup cause it is tricky, not just even from a knowledge perspective, but the emotional perspective going into these meetings. It’s very– there is a lot going on that we work with students with special needs every day that you know, all the lingo and the terminology and the services and how things operate and parents get introduced to that at the IEP or at the MET and then maybe getting a progress report home and like that kind of stuff. And I think we kind of lose perspective of that too, and how that impacts the relationship we have with the families that we’re working with.
Lloyd 38:07 I think it’s something they call empathy. We could all use a little bit more of that.
Lisa 38:12 Well, I do want to turn back to– we had kind of referenced this earlier. We talk about this a lot in the presentations that we give, but I’d like to talk a little bit about the Andrew case that we’ve referenced a couple of times. So for those of our listeners that maybe don’t know a lot about this case, can you kind of do a summary and maybe how that does impact us as professionals?
Lloyd 38:34 Sure. So Andrew F, the quick story is that it was a child in a Colorado school district, had autism spectrum disorder, behavioral issues, a whole awful lot of things. And basically the child was getting the same IEP and services year after year after year. But parents got tired of it and said this is not working for our child. They removed the child, put him into a private school, child made progress. And then they went back to the school district and sued them saying you did not provide this free, appropriate public education. So therefore you need to pay for my child’s new school. So now the way the Colorado worked is basically what happens in Colorado is they had the standard of what was called the de minimus test, which is just Latin de minimus, it just means like minimal. Like that’s it, the minimum. So their standard was how much progress does a child have to make? It has to be more than de minimus. So, more than a little bit. I can’t really quantify what that would mean, but in my mind, I just have a kid who like from one year to the next has these reading issues and they gain one vocabulary word from one year to the next and they made progress. And that would be enough. Now that’s probably an extreme, but that’s what’s going on in my mind. It’s not real progress. I think we would all agree on that. So now there was a split, the country’s basically split into 12, 13 different circuits, which is like groups of states and their laws are sort of different. There’s some differentiation among these circuits and let’s say New York is in a different circuit as compared to Colorado and Utah and some of the other states. So that was their interpretation of progress. In New York as well as other circuits, we have a higher standard of saying it’s not enough to make some progress. It has to be significant or substantial progress. So that was the difference. So basically based on the Colorado law they said, well, since this child made a little bit of progress, it was good enough and that’s all the school district had to do. So therefore the courts found against the parent and said we’re not going to allow funding for this. So then, because there was a difference in the various states, this went up to the Supreme court and the Supreme court looked at it and basically said look, it has to be real progress. Otherwise it’s meaningless. Okay. So something slightly more than trivial is not enough progress. They didn’t get into exactly how much progress was enough, but they said it’s gotta be something significant. So then they overruled it and basically sent it back down to the Colorado courts who eventually using this new standard approved– I should say, found in favor of the parents for for the private school. So that’s a little bit of the legal aspect of it. But now sort of the result of this, everyone was kind of looking at this and saying, well, this is amazing. This is great. This is excellent. The jury’s still out as to how much of an effect this actually has. I know in the year and a half or so after it happened, there were some studies done of cases that were being tried and they didn’t see much of a difference at all. I can tell you in New York we’re not seeing a huge difference either. You still have to see what’s going to happen.
Lisa 42:07 But you already had a standard, you said of progress being significant or substantial. So that would be a difference than maybe these other circuits that didn’t have that same expectation.
Lloyd 42:18 Correct. Right. So you would think that we would see more of a difference, and I know in that circuit you’ve got Utah and Colorado, so I would expect to see some differences there. We’ll see. But again, in New York, I mean basically the cases we’ve had out here, the courts are basically saying, oh, you see, we were right. And then they keep the standard the way that was. And it’s just like that constantly. Now some other things that I was talking about that you might see some of the difference is– and we still have to see how it plays out is that the court definitely said, look, we’re giving a lot of deference to the schools and to the providers in the school. So I’m giving them a lot of deference as to what they think is best for the child. But by the time it gets to a hearing, they should be able to have some sort of cogent explanation for what the child needs. So what I’m interpreting that as is that once you get to the hearing, that the deference towards the schools should be less than it was. We’ll have to see what happens with that. There’s some other things as well that might come about that might be helpful, but the jury is still out. And it’s just not as amazing of a decision as a lot of people think. But again, in certain states it might be. Maybe they’ll see more of a difference. We’ll still have to see.
Lisa 43:42 Well, and really the goal is, is that we should bring a lot of data, all of the team members, including the family, including the teachers and the related service providers and all be able to show that data and be able to analyze the data as a team to be able to agree for the programming for that student. So that’s where I think, again, we kind of touched upon that. What can be tricky is that when teams, if we’re just going on the deference to the school team, but they don’t always have the data to back up their choices, that’s where you can get in trouble as a school team.
Lloyd 44:18 Sure. And that’s important. Again, when that comes into play is it’s not the child who did really well and is having progress. And I look back and I say, oh, you don’t have the data. You know, I’m bringing this for a child where you really needed the data. You know, I’m bringing case where the child’s struggling, hasn’t made progress in the year and there was no data taking place. And I say, well, why didn’t you look at this six months ago? The child has 12 goals over the course of the year. They’ve met none of their goals. Why didn’t you tell us that five months ago, six months ago?
Lisa 44:53 Just wasted a half a year.
Sarah 44:54 That’s the mindset shift that we’ve got, when you say that and I hear it, it resonates with me. And I think, why did I wait six months?
Lisa 45:04 Because again, if this was your child– and that’s what I always think of. Like, if this is your child, would that be okay? Would you want to see your child go for a whole year? It takes special education out of the equation. If they were in general education and made no progress for a year and then you told me at the end of the year, well, we’re just holding him back, surprise! Like, that would not fly. So I don’t think that that– when we equivalate that to special education, it’s the same thing. It shouldn’t be a surprise at the end of the year that surprise! It’s the same goals, or surprise! there’s been no progress. It should be really keep an eye on your data. If the kid’s not making progress, change some things document how you’ve changed it. Because then if we have somebody like Lloyd Donders Esquire involved– Sarah 45:49 I would hope none of you ever have to meet in person, just kidding.
Lisa 45:54 He’s very pleasant.
Sarah 45:55 He’s actually lovely.
Lisa 45:57 But then you can show that. I think that’s where we get in trouble, is that even if you did do those things, if maybe I did say, oh, I don’t think they’re making progress so I’m going to do this differently, this differently, this differently. And I never wrote it down anywhere. I can’t remember what I did last week, let alone, if I remember like, oh, I did in the first quarter, really try to shift these things like this for this child.
Sarah 46:20 Yeah I think that’s the key. We talked about this a little bit at the beginning too. Like the last thing we want to do is have somebody listen to this podcast episode and go, you know, I’m done. I can’t do this, this is like too much for me. You know, the idea is, it’s just document, take data, review progress consistently. Do not wait until progress report time, do not wait until the end of the IEP to really analyze how that student’s doing with those areas that you had decided to target. So I think that’s it really– even when I’m saying this out loud, it doesn’t sound that complicated.
Lloyd 47:01 No. And look, I’m not doing this podcast.
Sarah 47:02 (unintelligible)
Lloyd 47:03 Yeah. I’m not doing this podcast for business. I’m really trying to do this to help you honestly. I mean, to help the kids, but also to help you avoid meeting people like me. I am very nice but this is what should be done and you will have better results because of it. And then you won’t to have to deal with the hearings as much. You’ll still have some, but not nearly as many.
Sarah 47:27 Yeah. Cause I always do think perspective is everything. And so I do hear these stories of like, oh, these meetings and the parents, and they’re all so difficult and everybody’s, it’s all just so ridiculous and all of these things. But I’m sure that you’re not taking a case that you don’t genuinely see that there’s something wrong.
Lisa 47:47 Well, and idea that what you said that oftentimes it’s after two to three years of buildup, so think about the relationships that are– how much frustration builds up that when it gets to the point that parents are eliciting the help from outside professionals, it’s almost like game over at that point. Where it’s, I don’t have trust in my school team anymore because I have given them my trust and I feel like they haven’t done well with that so then I’m getting this outside support. So I think we have to keep that perspective in mind that this is just a parent trying to do right by their child, period. And how would you feel in that same situation?
Lloyd 48:22 Yeah. And look, there definitely are parents I speak to, and parents want what’s best for their children. We all do. Right? And that’s fine. But by law schools don’t have to do what’s best for their children, they only have to do what’s appropriate. So there are plenty of times parents come to me and they say my child’s not making enough progress, they should be doing better in writing, they should be doing better in this. And I look at the IEP and I say, they’re doing okay. Like, yeah, should they be making more progress? Yeah. Should they be getting more speech and language and more reading? Probably. But legally, do I think I’m going to be able to get it? No.
Lisa 48:59 Well, and I’m glad you bring this up because I don’t think everything is the burden of the school district. So, and I think that’s where things can get hairy with families too sometimes, is that more services that— that we are providing access to curriculum, that is our whole role in special education. And so if there is progress then– and plus I think sometimes there’s that– we used to have this kind of thing in our district where if anybody was considering moving a child to a more restrictive placement, they would need to go to this team to kind of bounce off what are other interventions we can try before we even consider something like that. And so I know there was one student that was, it was like a full inclusion kind of student. I believe the student had down syndrome and was in kindergarten. And the teacher was like, he can only count to 24 or whatever it is. And one of the members of this team goes, are you kidding me? That’s amazing! You got this kid to count to 24? And the teacher was kind of like what? Wait. So I think sometimes we see that with parents and with the resource teachers or speech paths is that we have to understand that kids evolve on different progress timelines and that small gains can actually be significant and substantial gains depending on the student. So we just have to kind of keep that framed into who the student is, where are they? Where do we want to move them in a year? And have data to show either way that we’re making that progress or if we’re not, what are we doing to try to fix that?
Lloyd 50:33 Right. That’s important.
Lisa 50:35 All right. I think I feel good about this.
Sarah 50:38 Is there anything else that you would like– while you’ve got the ears of these SLPs, anything else we didn’t cover? I feel like we went through…
Lloyd 50:51 Yeah. I ticked off everything on my notes that I wanted to get to.
Sarah 50:54 Awesome. I am so excited. We were so thrilled when you reached out and right away, we were like, heck yes, we want to do this. Now I will say I was a little concerned when I saw that the podcast you listened to was called, “I used to pull present levels out of my bleep.” I thought, wait, and he still wants to record with us?
Lisa 51:17 It’s okay. I sent him a smart blog post too.
Lloyd 51:20 I thought I definitely need to teach them something on this.
Lisa 51:24 You’re not– stand in line Lloyd Donders Esquire, stand in line. Okay. Well, thank you again for your time. And for sharing your knowledge with our audience. We super appreciate it.
Lloyd 51:35 It was a lot of fun. I’m very happy.
Sarah 51:35 And then we can maybe do a followup, but we’ll compile any of the references or things that were made in the podcast episode. But I think this could be a really cool blog post too. So maybe we can collaborate with some other things in the future.
Lloyd 51:47 That’d be great. Looking forward to it.
Sarah 51:49 Thank you. Bye!
Lloyd 51:51 Thanks so much for having me.