Read Disability Rights' top six points in response to Nebraska's draft Consolidated State Plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act. This plan will be submitted to Federal Department of Education within the next week. There are concerns about how the proposed state plan addresses the needs of students with disabilities and controversial practices like aversive behavioral interventions and seclusion and restraint. A link to the full proposed plan follows the letter below.
Commissioner Matthew L. Blomstedt
Nebraska Department of Education
301 Centennial Mall South
P.O. Box 94987
Lincoln, NE 68509-4987
Dear Commissioner Blomstedt:
Thank you for speaking with us today and listening to our concerns regarding Nebraska’s Consolidated State Plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act. We appreciate your time and attention and look forward to future discussion and cooperation in maximizing the educational success and experiences of Nebraska’s students, especially those students with disabilities. Below are the points we raised in our conversation this afternoon.
1. The plan understates the participation of parents of children in the development and implementation of educational plans.
Parents are considered major participants in the development of their child’s education, both with respect to IEPs and 504 plans. (See, e.g. chart which is found on page 77 of the draft plan which is entitled “Model flow of how learning goals are established through Nebraska content standards.” Such exclusion creates a perception that education is solely a “top-down” process, whereas the educational process is required to be a collaborative, particularly as involves children with disabilities; to ignore this collaborative aspect undercuts the interests of students with disabilities (who are largely the focus of parental involvement).
2. The state plan draft provides an incomplete identification of those aspects which are most likely to impact children with disabilities.
For example, the language of “Response to Intervention” (RTI, see materials starting on page 79) comes across as virtually a “preferred option” instead of an expected practice across the entire spectrum of education.
RTI has long been identified by evidence-based research as the most effective mechanism to assure that all individuals within the school environment actually work together to achieve positive interventions on behalf of all children within the school environment. As individuals with disabilities are the people most likely to benefit from consistent implementation of the RTI concept, both because it recognizes that children with disabilities have something to contribute to the school environment and because such children are also likely to be impacted by negative behaviors that RTI is designed to address (e.g. bullying), the minimalist approach to RTI within the plan could actually have an adverse impact.
3. The plan’s language regarding school accountability is confusing.
On page 51 the plan says that “virtually no school is held accountable” while on page 53 the plan says that “virtually no school is not held accountable” (note the double negative language). Such confusing language could serve to undermine the effectiveness of the plan.
4. The use or overuse of aversive behavioral interventions is not discussed fully or included explicitly in the discussion of School Conditions in Section 6.1 (C).
While bullying and disciplinary practices receive explicit mention, the use of aversive interventions does not. While the use of aversive interventions could be included under the rubric of “disciplinary practices”, these two particular items are listed independently in the list of potential uses of ESSA-related federal funds; the proposed state plan implies that they are indeed separate: “…each of the three areas of School Conditions listed above...” (p. 157, emphasis added)
The proposed plan notes that LEA (Local Education Authority) and SEA (State Education Authority) representatives continue to collect and analyze data on “discipline practices and outcomes, especially focused on students with disabilities” and “model intervention programs, model policies and evidence-based practices” are researched, but nowhere in this description is a mention of aversive behavioral interventions.
5. The proposed plan seems to advocate the status quo regarding the use of aversive behavioral interventions.
The plan proposes to require schools to describe efforts underway addressing the School Conditions section of the ESSA Consolidated Application and makes available technical assistance to schools when they would evaluate programs relative to the enumerated school conditions area. We fail to see how this approach is an improvement or advancement from the status quo. Many families and advocacy organizations have called for strengthened efforts to reduce the use of restraint and/or seclusion (e.g., Legislative Resolution 314 ) and in private meetings and conversations with Nebraska Department of Education officials and staff. We would have hoped that in the state’s ESSA proposal the Department would have demonstrated a stronger commitment and action.
Furthermore, we are concerned that without incentives or encouragement, schools may not know such assistance exists (see for example the discussion on LB 595—that teachers/staff were unaware of school policies and teacher authority/responsibility regarding restraint or unruly students) and thus may not utilize extant technical assistance to reduce aversive behavioral interventions. Simply having technical assistance available if a school asks may not be sufficient to reduce substantively aversive behavioral interventions. The language on p. 157 affirms our concern: “On-going technical support from SEA specialists is available to each LEA throughout the year to assist and respond to questions regarding any of the requirements listed here.” (p. 157, emphasis added).
6. We are pleased to see in the proposed ESSA plan a commitment to continue and expand collaboration with outside agencies and organizations.
We were pleased to hear your commitment and dedication to seeking input and collaboration in order to implement successfully the ESSA plan and improve education for Nebraska’s students overall. We are pleased to note that input and collaboration plays a significant role in the ESSA plan (for example, see page 159 PBIS initiatives; page 162 “grow partnerships with…statewide community partners to strengthen and enhance educational opportunities for all students”; page 162 reserving 5% of the Title IV-A allocation to support “activities targeted toward the greatest identified needs across the state as identified through…other stakeholder input…”; and page 163’s commitment to build partnerships with organizations having ties to families and community leaders). As the designated Protection and Advocacy organization in Nebraska, Disability Rights Nebraska has unique expertise and fosters these types of connections with the community and families of students with disabilities.
Disability Rights Nebraska stands ready to assist the Department in whatever capacity we can to improve the education and experience of Nebraska’s students, especially those with disabilities.
Again, thank you for your time and attention.
Bradley A. Meurrens
Public Policy Director
Disability Rights Nebraska
To view the proposed plan: https://www.education.ne.gov/documents/HomePage/DraftESSAPlanNebraska060517.pdf