Author Archive:Shahar Pasch

ByShahar Pasch

Gifted Checklists Found to Discriminate Against Children With Disabilities

In a meaningful success, we prevailed in a 504 Complaint which found that the Gifted Characteristic Checklist used by the Palm Beach County School District discriminate against children with disabilities. We will continue to advocate to make sure all students have access to appropriate educational programs.

Most children with disabilities do not fit neatly into any one category. They often have layers of complex and co-occurring strengths and challenges which can result in multiple, co-existing exceptionalities and ESE eligibilities.  It is possible, and in fact common, for a child to be both Gifted and have Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Gifted and Specific Learning Disabled, or Gifted, Language Impaired and Emotional/Behaviorally Disabled, and the list goes on. All children, regardless of their exceptionalities and challenges, deserve the same opportunity to access school enrichment programming.

In Florida, there are three criteria used to determine Gifted eligibility. Pursuant to Fla. Admin. Code R. 6A-6.03019, a student must demonstrate (1) the need for a special program, (2) a majority of characteristics of gifted student according to a standard score or checklist, and (3) superior intellectual development as measured by an IQ score two standard deviations or more above the mean on a standardized test of intelligence. All three areas (need for a special program, the minimum IQ score, and the gifted characteristics) must be met in order for a child to be eligible for Gifted.  In other words, a child can have an extraordinarily high IQ, but can be denied Gifted placement if the teachers do not mark a sufficient number of characteristics in a checklist.

There is no standard for the Gifted Characteristic Checklists, and so they vary widely across the State, and indeed the country.  There are, however, some checklists which are rooted in research, are more expansive, and are sensitive to the varying strengths and challenges experienced by children with disabilities. Palm Beach County’s checklists were limited and, furthermore, valued behaviors which specifically excluded children with certain disabilities.  For example, the Gifted Characteristic Checklist for grades 4 and 5 asked teachers to rank a child on skills such as “adapts easily to different situations” and “becomes impatient with drills and routine procedures.”  Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder would have difficulty gaining higher marks for these types of behaviors.  In fact, the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) specifically considers whether a child demonstrates, “Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat food every day).” Thus, the more a child exhibits traits of ASD, the lower the same child may score on the Gifted Characteristic Checklist. While there are many children with disabilities in the School District’s gifted programs, some children were certainly excluded due to their disability.

Ultimately, all children should be valued for their strengths, diversity of thoughts and abilities that they can contribute, and not just excluded because of their challenges. A more inclusive checklist will allow all children to be considered fairly and equitably for Gifted eligibility. We are very pleased to have successfully advocated on behalf of our client, and to have helped make a difference for all students with disabilities in Palm Beach County who will benefit from the revised Gifted Characteristic Checklists.

 

Relevant Portions of the Investigation Report:

There is a finding of disability discrimination against the School District pertaining to the complaint of the Gifted Characteristics Checklist being discriminatory toward students with disabilities such as Language Impairments and Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Difficulties in the area of pragmatic language and social interactions, commonly experienced by students with LI and/or ASD, such as functional limitations in effective communication, social participation, social relationships, inflexible adherence to routines, highly restricted, fixated interests, absence of interest in peers and knowing how to use verbal and nonverbal signals to regulate interaction can prevent students from achieving scores of 3 or 4 on the Gifted Characteristics Checklist for items such as:
 
  9.   Is able to do more than one thing at a time
10.  Adapts easily to different situations
18.  Is willing to take risks
20.  Is sensitive to the feeling of others or to situations
25.  Is secure emotionally
 
It is recommended that the School District of Palm Beach County replace the current Gifted Characteristics Checklists for all grades and populations (PBSD Forms 1326, 1327, 1413, 1414, 1415, 1760).  The District should consider the adoption of new gifted characteristics checklists that are norm-referenced and that allow students with disabilities to be scored in a manner equal to that of students without disabilities.

 

ByShahar Pasch

School Safety and the Disabled Child

We are all devastated by the school shooting in Broward.  Every parent worries about their child’s safety at school when these types of events occur.  For parents of children with disabilities, school safety raises a host of issues.

If your child’s disability affects their communication, behavior, socialization, or emotionality, then chances are you have been thinking about school safety for a long time.  Maybe you are concerned that your child will be victimized.  Maybe you are concerned that your child will harm, or be perceived as a threat to, others. Maybe you are worried about how your child will react in a threatening situation. It is important to speak frankly and openly about these issues.

  1. Your child has a right to attend school.   Fearing for your child’s safety, whether you are afraid for their physical or emotional well-being, is legitimate. More and more lately, I’ve heard of parents removing their children from schools due to safety concerns. Every parent has the right to make that choice for their child, however no one should feel compelled to choose between school and safety. Schools have an obligation to provide the services, resources and accommodations to keep all students, including those with special needs, safe.
  2. Bullying is a school safety issue. If your child has a disability, and is the target of bullying, then the school has an obligation to address the bullying through the IEP process. A school’s failure to protect a child with a disability from bullying may be considered discrimination. Moving a child without addressing the underlying issues of why they were victimized, and without providing them with the help to overcome the trauma of the bullying, is a cosmetic fix to a deeper issue which may manifest in the future.
  3. Schools must help children with behavioral and emotional challenges.  Children act out for a variety of reasons. Maybe they tantrum or become physically aggressive due to a lack of communication skills.  Maybe they make threats to avoid certain anxiety-inducing scenarios. Maybe their disability causes them to self-harm or react violently to sensory stimuli.  Schools have an obligation to proactively address these issues through the IEP process.

The IEP process and positive behavior intervention plans actually work to change behaviors.  In order to be effective, though, the IEP and  behavior plan must be thorough, data-driven and implemented with fidelity through a partnership between the school, family and community.

Unfortunately, many families feel frustrated by the process and, quite legitimately, feel let down by their schools.  From the school’s perspective, it may be easier to push out, exclude or isolate these challenging children.  But let’s be clear:  (1) all children have the right to attend and be safe at school, and (2) the IEP process, when done right, can help keep our children safe.  When our children gain the coping, communication and social skills they need to successfully navigate their schools and communities, then we are all safer.

 

 

Shahar Pasch is an attorney practicing education law in Palm Beach County.

This blog post is for educational purposes only, not to provide specific legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.

ByShahar Pasch

Win! Pasch Criminal Lawyers Successful in Defense of a First Degree Felony Punishable-By-Life

 

We are proud to announce that Pasch Law’s criminal defense team, lead by Attorney Robert Pasch, successfully defended our client on a first degree felony, punishable-by-life, charge.   By remaining focused and aggressive throughout the process, we were able to win utilizing a rare criminal defense theory of corpus delicti. We zealously cross-examined witnesses, presented the Court with thorough legal research, prepared a comprehensive memorandum of law, and argued in Circuit Court over a two day hearing. The Court ultimately ruled in our favor and all charges against our client were dismissed.  We never take for granted our client’s faith and trust in us. We are thrilled that our hard work paid off for our client and justice prevailed!

ByShahar Pasch

Controlled Open Enrollment: What do you need to know and how can it help your child?

If you do not want your child to attend your local school, then you now have a new option.  Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, a parent may enroll their child in any public school within the State of Florida  if (1) the school is not at capacity, and (2) the student is not currently subject to an expulsion or suspension.  In Palm Beach County, “capacity” has been determined to exclude any school that is more than 90% full.    Here is some important information to consider if you want your child to participate in Controlled Open Enrollment:

  1. On April 3, 2017, the school district will publish a list of schools available for Controlled Open Enrollment.  The window to apply is April 3-May 7, 2017. You must apply online through the Palm Beach County School Choice site www.mypbchoiceapp.com.
  2. Transportation will not be provided.
  3. Pre-K is not available through Controlled Open Enrollment.
  4. Charter schools do not participate in Controlled Open Enrollment.  You need to contact a charter school directly to apply for enrollment.
  5. A lottery will be held for schools in which the number of applications for Controlled Open Enrollment exceed the number of spaces available.
  6. Preference for Controlled Open Enrollment will, per Florida Statute 1002.31, be given to the following populations of student:
    • Children of active duty military personnel whose move is a result of military orders,
    • Children in foster care who have been relocated to a different school zone,
    • Children who have moved as a result of a court-ordered change in custody due to divorce, separation or death of a parent/caregiver
    • Students who reside in Palm Beach County
  7. Once those seats have been filled, then preference will be given to (1) siblings of children already attending the school and (2) siblings applying together to the same school.
  8. ESE students are eligible for Controlled Open Enrollment.  It is important to note that Controlled Open Enrollment is separate and different from the McKay Public Option.  If your child has an IEP, then an IEP team may convene to ensure that the IEP can be met at the chosen school.
  9. You are not limited to schools in the county in which you reside.  Do you live in Martin County, but work work in Palm Beach County? Or do you live in Palm Beach County, but want your child to attend a school in Broward?  Open enrollment is available to Florida residents in any public school district within the state.  If you are interested in another school district, please check their website for the relevant application process and deadlines.

How do you choose what school to apply to for Controlled Open Enrollment? First, realize that seats at very popular schools will fill up quickly, so your odds of enrollment will be diminished if a lottery needs to be held.  Second, don’t go by school grades alone because they can be misleading and not always relevant to finding the best fit for your child.  Does your child have a particular interest that a school may offer?  For example, some elementary schools offer arts programs like band or drama.  Some middle schools have a great SECME team that your science-inclined child may enjoy.  Maybe your child wants to be part of a strong marching band program and baseball team in high school.  Take a tour of the schools you’re interested in and ask questions about clubs, sports and aftercare programs.

If your child struggles academically, then ask what type of supports the schools offers to meet your child’s challenges, including tutoring and types of reading programs they use.  If your child excels academically, then ask whether the school has enrichment programs, participates in academic games or offers pull-out or full-time gifted.  If your child has behavioral challenges, then ask about the school’s positive behavior plan and their suspension rate.  Of course, since transportation is not provided, consider the school’s proximity to your home and work.

While the process may feel overwhelming, the good news is you only have to do it once.  Once your child is enrolled, you do not have to reapply. Your child may remain at that school until the last grade completed.  As always, should you feel that your child has not been treated fairly, has been denied an appropriate accommodation or placement, or you wish to appeal a school district decision, then please contact our firm at 561-247-5852 for additional assistance.

 

ByShahar Pasch

Why hire an education lawyer?

One of the questions we get most frequently is why should a parent/caregiver chose a lawyer, and not an advocate, for their child’s special education case? The simplest answer is that a lawyer can help level the playing field. The School District, and their employees, have access to lawyers. Certainly, in Due Process case, the School District will be represented by an attorney at settlement conferences, depositions and hearings. By hiring an attorney for your special education case, you will have someone trained in the nuances of litigation and evidence, familiar with the relevant case law, and able to put forth the best legal argument on your behalf. Advocates, while they may be familiar with education law, simply do not have the legal training that an attorney can bring to the table.

But what if your case is not necessarily heading towards due process? Perhaps you want to try to obtain services, evaluations or accommodations through negotiations. Here again, it is important to have the right person helping you through this process. Hiring an attorney signals to the School District that you are serious about your requests. The right attorney can interface with the School District so that the important decision-makers are brought to the IEP table. Attorneys are trained in negotiations and mediations, and can help guide you towards an amicable resolution.

The most important question, though, is not whether to hire an attorney or an advocate, but rather is the person you chose to be your voice the right fit for your family. At our firm, we believe it is important to strike a balance between zealous advocacy on behalf of the child’s needs and preserving the relationships with school personnel that you and your child need to work with on a daily basis. We understand how difficult and personal this process can be, and so we aim to preserve relationships and strengthen communication between the parties whenever possible. If you are experiencing difficulty obtaining the resources your child needs, then call us to help you determine the right path towards helping your child succeed.

ByShahar Pasch

Proud to Support the Fight Against Homelessness in Palm Beach County

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to sponsor Rise and Grind Sports and their partner, the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County, in the 2nd Annual Hoops 4 Homeless Awareness.

 

 

basketball-tourney-3basketball-tourney-2basketball-tourney-1