Florida Modified Guidelines for Particular Schooling College students. Why Many Say It’s Fallacious
Florida Eyes were trained on the State Board of Education this summer when it recorded how race is taught in public school classes.
Governor Ron DeSantis attended the June 10 meeting, calling on the board to outlaw “critical racial theory.” Protesters condemned any attempt to remove the nation’s inconvenient truths from history classes.
The discussion lasted nearly two hours and made headlines across the country and nation.
By the time the board came up with a proposed rule affecting students with the greatest cognitive disabilities, all the energy had left the room.
The board members spent six minutes proposing that defined the students’ disabilities in such a way that the academic help that had been given for many years would suddenly be taken away. They spent three minutes listening to an employee presentation, two minutes listening to a public speaker, and another minute unanimously approving the measure without asking a question or comment.
Months later, affected students, their parents and schools continue to struggle to change the way students are taught and tested, and the way the state implements them.
“You have the ability to change so many lives in good ways,” said Abby Updike Skipper, a Polk County parent and advocate of special education for the past two decades. “Why do they do that? That ruined so much hard work. “
One percent solution
The rationale for the rule seemed simple enough.
Years ago Florida recognized that the state’s general educational standards and tests were not developmentally appropriate for certain children and created alternative tests based on more accessible and understandable parts of those standards called “access points.”
This way, students are encouraged to do their best and can receive a regular diploma to help them qualify for a job rather than a certificate of completion. The federal government allows such accommodations under the Every Student Succeeds Act, but has a limit of 1 percent of the total student population to be eligible for the alternative tests.
“Florida is a little above that 1 percent,” said Chancellor Jacob Oliva to the board.
To get below the cap, the state ministry of education looked at ways to limit the number of children who can use the access points and take alternative tests.
Because of this, the new rule provides a more precise definition of what it means to have a “major cognitive disability” and adds guidelines for gaining access to the services, Oliva said. For the first time, the rule includes a fixed IQ level. It also states that children must demonstrate their inability to make progress in general educational standards even with additional support over two grading periods.
Students who are already in the system would need to be reassessed to see if they still qualify. Those new to public schools had to wait for these two grading times before being considered, and many of them failed class along the way.
Why do they do that? That ruined so much hard work.
Abby Updike Skipper, a Polk County parent and special education advocate
This includes kindergarten through second grade that do not have access points included in Florida BEST’s new academic standards.
And everything would happen instantly. Ministry officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Jeff Skowronek, executive director of Pepin Academies Charter Schools for students with disabilities, warned the state board that the proposal would affect schools’ ability to focus on children’s unique learning styles.
“The rules will limit us,” said Skowronek. “They’re going to take away the students we worked diligently for to make sure they belong there. Then we don’t serve the students as well as we can. “
The change quickly became real for Karen Cooley and her stepson Matthew.
After years in a private school for children with disabilities in Leon County, Matthew was in the process of moving to a public high school this summer for a wider range of services as he neared his 18th birthday.
Post-school training is vital to survival, Cooley said, because while Matthew is a “charm” who rarely hits a soul he cannot get along with, “he also has his challenges.” These include low motor skills, attention deficits and hyperactivity, characteristics of autism, and a low IQ.
“There isn’t a person on the planet who thinks they should get a general education,” said Cooley. She added that she could see the “terror in his eyes” when he heard that it was a possibility.
However, since he came from the outside, the new rule would place him in the mainstream population for two grading periods until it could be proven that he qualified for the additional services and alternative tests. School officials apologized, Cooley said, but said their hands were tied.
“It would have completely undermined his confidence,” she said.
So the family kept him at home, teaching Matthew what they could while they tried to work something out.
Meanwhile, special educators and attorneys heard more concerns like this as they sifted through the new requirements and tried to put the rule into practice that they had little leverage in developing it.
“They often forget how the rules affect the most vulnerable,” said Lisa Miller, a member of the Polk County School Board who served on the state’s special education advisory board and has a child who qualified for the special access points during school.
How to ‘remove a wheelchair’
Miller, Skipper, and others on the state advisory council said they couldn’t understand why the state would take steps that have the potential to remove services from students with special needs. They found that instead of being consulted as a group, they received notifications that council members were removed days after the state board adopted the rule.
“It’s like taking a wheelchair from a non-ambulatory student,” Skipper said of the rule.
If the council had taken part in the conversation, Miller said, “we would have found the problems”.
Instead, they played catch-up in hindsight. They reached out to trusted special educators, including Monica Verra-Tirado, who ran the state’s special education office before becoming the director of diversity, justice and inclusion in Hillsborough County.
They often forget how rules affect the weakest.
Polk County School Board Member Lisa Miller
Verra-Tirado noted that the federal government had no objection to Florida’s previous rules for students with significant cognitive disabilities. The state has put in place safety precautions to ensure that students participating in the alternative testing and accessibility standards are qualified, based on the teams of parents and experts who make decisions for each child, she said.
Also, she added, the federal government has never required a set IQ level like the state set. This from a state that routinely disregards federal educational mandates while promoting the rights of parents against government dictates.
The new rule, she suggested, could lead to the arbitrary removal of services even though student needs have been demonstrated. The federal 1 percent target has no scientific basis, Verra-Tirado continued, calling it an “invented number” that contradicts the law that focuses on service to individuals.
Florida’s new rule “will get us closer to 1 percent,” she said, “but at what price?”
The legislature asks questions
The subject soon landed in the lap of the legislature.
“I’ve heard about it from at least seven districts,” said MP Allison Tant, a Tallahassee Democrat who is also the mother of a student with special needs.
They had concerns about older students dropping out instead of going to general education courses that they were likely to fail at, Tant said. And they were concerned about not providing the youngest students with the alternative standards despite proven needs.
State Representative Susan Valdes, a Tampa Democrat, began asking questions during a recent House Education Committee meeting where members discussed individual education plans. She said she would continue to look into the issue with a view to possible laws.
Polk County’s mother, Skipper, said she was glad her daughter Elizabeth, who has cerebral palsy, graduated from high school on the alternate assessments just before the new rule went into effect.
“If that happened last year, I would have sued the DOE,” she said, adding that she would also have opposed any changes to her daughter’s individualized education plan during her struggle.
She complained that few people paid attention to this aspect of parenting while spending “too much time” on things like masks and racial education.
“These are our most vulnerable students,” said Skipper. “And the hits just keep coming.”