Early Intervention changes proposed

8:54 am

When something is working we sometimes forget to ask why or notice at all. The Multnomah Early Childhood Program (MECP) is one of those things that is often taken for granted.

MECP falls under the big umbrella of Multnomah Education Service District (MESD), a regional program that serves all of the school districts in Multnomah County. On March 16th, 2009 MESD was told that Portland Public Schools will not be renewing the contract for MECP to continue doing evaluations for children that have developmental concerns and disabilities. MECP would continue to provide the service of early intervention is what I understand because this is ODE’s requirement.

My biggest concern about this is the philosophical differences between MECP and PPS in how children with delays and disabilities are identified and supported. MECP is based on the values of serving the whole family and community in the process of serving each and every child. MECP partners with Multnomah Parent Action Committee (MPAC) and provides free training and support groups for parents. MECP offers classes in communication, autism, behavior, and actively seeks resources for families. The process from the first phone call all the way to transition to PPS is seamless and supportive.

PPS likely believes they can save money doing the early intervention evaluations in the district. I beg to differ.

  • The money PPS would have to spend to meet the standards of consistency and family centered practices that MECP provides would likely exceed whatever savings they believe they can draw from this move.
  • I do not understand how shifting pots of money around and creating a fragmented system benefits anyone. Parents just receiving a diagnosis have a lot of concerns and questions about services, and there is ample room for mistakes and miscommunication when one agency is handing information off to another.
  • Since MESD is a county system and covers all of the districts there is a lot of sharing of resources that offsets costs all over. MESD intakes 2400 children a year and roughly 1200 are in PPS. If PPS pulls out of this contract then East County will have to pick up the slack and absorb costs and in addition MESD would have to let go of 50 percent of their staff. Turnover within MECP is rare and in my 3 years as a parent in their system see all of the same faces every year.
  • Perhaps PPS should allow MECP to keep the contract and instead direct resources to investigate what MECP is doing right to empower, engage, and support families while also being successful in providing early intervention.

My deepest, darkest fears about PPS taking over early intervention evaluation is that children with disabilities will be routed into special schools like the Pioneer Program or will simply not be identified as needing early intervention at all. More segregation and less identification is what our future may hold if PPS does not allow MECP to continue doing their good work. PPS has enough to worry about right now.

Join me in writing the school board and the superintendent (contact information on the “action” page of this site). You can also contact Ron Hitchcock the superintendent of MESD at rhitchco@mesd.k12.or.us

Tell them to let MECP continue to do their good work. If you have personal stories about how MECP has helped your family then share them.

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Stephanie Hunter is a behavior consultant and the parent of a student at Ockley Green. She is active in local and statewide advocacy for children and adults with disabilities, which she writes about on her blog Belonging Matters.

filed under: County, IEP

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17 Responses

  1. Comment from anon:

    Thanks for this great info, Stephanie!

  2. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    My family had outstanding service from MECP. Thank you, Stephanie, for the great run down of this situation.

    And welcome aboard PPS Equity!

    I look forward to your continuing attention to issues facing students on IEPs. Of all the inequities in PPS, these students definitely seem to be on the shortest end of the stick.

  3. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Stephanie – great to see you posting on PPS Equity!

    I share your concerns about kids who are not being identified for services and then not being served.

    I’d like to know more about your experience with the IEP teams — you mentioned something in one of your replies about parents being bullied, surrounded by 7 people on the IEP team. I’d also like to hear more about your experience with testing requirements for kids with IEP’s. There was a huge story in Seattle recently about teachers that were suspended for not administering the WASL test to kids with severe disabilities because it was — in their opinion and in the opinion of their parents — a complete waste of time.

  4. Comment from mary:

    Wow, this is really interesting. I worked for Portland Early Intervention when it was run by PPS. I remember when they stopped the program and contracted with MECP to SAVE MONEY. I remember transportation for the children was a mess. There was a controversy over the district paying for cab rides to bring the children to service locations. Would PPS just do the evaluations and MESD continue the services? That might work but PPS is in the middle of the K-8 transition, the high school re-design, and building upgrades. They don’t need another bureaucracy to build and run. Yes I will write the board and superintendent.

  5. Comment from Rita:

    Great post, Stephanie. I can also testify to the difficulty in getting PPS – or any school district for that matter – to give kids the kinds of accommodations that they need in the classroom. As with many things, there seems to be great variation depending on the particular school.

    In my experience, the IEP meetings are indeed daunting and in most cases there is an inherent imbalance of power. The school contingent can be formidable, including a principal, multiple teachers, and a counselor, sometimes a district representative. On the other side of the table is a parent trying to advocate for a kid. Typically, school personnel frequently mention their professional credentials and experience while assuring the parent they they are doing everything possible as they discuss (or dismiss) a family’s concerns or suggestions.

    Frankly, in many cases the IEP meeting is adversarial, whether implicitly or explicitly, even when everyone is genuinely trying to act in the child’s best interests. I mean no disrespect when I say that most schools have some degree of conflict of interest in the proceedings as they try to limit the burden on their scarce resources. An IEP is a binding legal document, so there can be quite a lot of fairly intense negotiation around it. It is in the school’s interest to keep it as vague as possible to give them maximum flexibility and avoid negative consequences. The parent, on the other hand, needs to make the IEP as explicit and comprehensive as possible to permit some kind of accountability for the follow through. But most parents are at a distinct disadvantage in this negotiation and need to do a tremendous amount of research and networking to develop a proposed plan for school actions and then defend against the school’s assurances that they’re doing everything possible to help the kid.

    It’s a lousy situation all around. I know a lot of kids who are not having their needs met; a lot of parents who are desperate; and a lot of teachers who are deeply frustrated. I’m very glad to hear about the special ed PTA. I think that could be a great resource for parents. The other thing I can recommend is taking advantage of some good trainings that are being offered on how to handle IEPs. Coincidentally, I just got a notice of one being offered by Providence Child Center on April 7, 9-11am. (http://www.orpti.org/documents.....rtland.pdf).

    And I would recommend that every parent try not to go into these meetings alone. Attorneys can work wonders, along with trained advocates, but even if it’s just an educated friend, it helps to have an ally in the room.

    One last thing – in my experience, a huge problem in IEPs is the reality that school districts just plain don’t have enough resources to provide the kinds of services that even they want to give the kids. I’ve been involved with cases where teachers will indicate in private that the kid needs more services, but when it comes down to putting a plan on paper, they just plain can’t do it because they know they won’t be able to fulfill it. The Reynolds district used to be relatively good at special ed, but then their finances imploded and now it’s almost impossible to get kids anything at all.

    So, as with most things in education in this state, the schools truly don’t have enough resources to provide our children with what they need. We have to fix our revenue system in this state to provide stable and adequate funding for education.

  6. Comment from Rose:

    Stephanie, thank you so much for posting this. And Peter and everyone, thank you so much for being willing to learn.

    I can vouch the IEP process can be akin to being beaten with kind words. I consider myself a good advocate. I’m a trained foster parent, a writer, and I know how to research an issue. But trying to get my daughter an IEP was a huge, exhausting and almost fruitless battle.

    One clever trick the district does is they test the kid for IQ. In fact it is the only test they do. They do not evaluate for dyslexia, executive function, non-verbal learning disabilities, or autism. They just test for IQ.

    Then they sit you down at a huge table and they say, “Look here, your kid is low IQ. As a matter of fact she is performing at her IQ level. Therefore she does not need an IEP, because she is already doing as good as she can.”

    What they do not tell parents is if the low IQ is along with an “other health impaired” condition, such as learning disabilities, the child should qualify.

    My daughter, for instance, already had a qualifying diagnosis. The school, however, would not accept my thick file from her time in foster care as proof. I had to hire an outside evaluator, which costs $900. This was not covered by insurance. It was only then she got her IEP.

    A year later, by the way, her IQ had climbed several points.

    Parents also find that the more you ask for on an IEP the more likely your child will be sent to an outside school or a place like Pioneer. So you learn not to ask for too much, even if that is what your child needs.

  7. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    The IDEA should have been fully funded by the feds in 1981. The feds are funding it at less than 20% but the states are expected to pick up the slack. The student’s needs are considered a burden on resources and the administrators and teachers have to do the dance to be as vague as possible. This lack of funding of IDEA affects the way (and if) special education teachers are trained and research in education methods goes to the wayside. I am shocked at the old timey ideas that are still out there and how lowballed kids are. At an IEP for an 18 year old with FAS the teacher was confident that this student would “…do well sorting in a sheltered workshop.” I was a bit out of character and in frustration rudely blurted, “Food, flowers, and filth is all the kids with disabilities can do.” (credit to Kathie Snow for this line) I reminded this team that although she had a low IQ (shudder) she could play keyboard by ear, was an artist, and had an amazing talent for styling hair. Why do the kids with disabilities have to wipe the cafeteria tables, take out the recycling and the garbage? And why do they call that part of the day JOB SKILLS? It costs nothing to give a child dignity and respect.

    IQ testing was used as rationale for the eugenics movement back in the day.

  8. Comment from Rose:

    Stephanie, do not get me started!

    It should be well known by now that IQ scores are affected by race, environmental deprivation, stress, and other issues.

    For instance there is a documented “foster care effect” where kids who are found adoptive homes often climb in IQ scores. Love, it appears, is brain food.

    Of course low IQ is a real thing, and often the result of conditions like FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome). However it is not the final story on a child. Many kids with lower IQs have wonderful strengths, and there is a lot that can be done to strengthen their abilities.

    Early intervention is key and it concerns me that PPS would take over MCEP. I don’t believe for a minute that PPS will do prompt home visits like MCEP for evals.

    I think the end result will be a lot of children will go without help.

  9. Comment from marcia:

    simply not be identified is more like it. The school sp ed folks are so way overloaded right now that I can imagine asking them to do more. they are stretched way beyond their limit already.

  10. Comment from marcia:

    should say CAN’T imagine! sorry

  11. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    For a great piece on the limits of IQ tests, see this interview with Daniel Tammet, an author and linguist who holds the European record for reciting the first 22,514 digits of the mathematical constant pi. Tammet is referred to as an “autistic savant” and has this to say about IQ tests:

    When I was a child, my behavior was far from being what most people would label “intelligent.” It was often limited, repetitive and antisocial. I could not do many of the things that most people take for granted, such as looking someone in the eye or deciphering a person’s body language, and only acquired these skills with much effort over time. I also struggled to learn many of the techniques for spelling or doing sums taught in class because they did not match my own style of thinking.

    I know from my own experience that there is much more to intelligence than an IQ number. In fact, I hesitate to believe that any system could really reflect the complexity and uniqueness of one person’s mind or meaningfully describe the nature of his or her potential.

    The bell curve distribution for IQ scores tells us that two thirds of the world’s population has an IQ somewhere between 85 and 115. This means that some four and a half billion people around the globe share just 31 numerical values (“he’s a 94,” “you’re a 110,” “I’m a 103”), equivalent to 150 million people worldwide sharing the same IQ score. This sounds a lot to me like astrology, which lumps everyone into one of 12 signs of the zodiac.

  12. Comment from Stephanie:

    I am testifying (hopefully) at the school board meeting tonight on this matter! They are not taking public comment until 10:15pm and it starts at 7pm. If anyone wants to pass notes with me then see you there :)

  13. Comment from Stephanie:

    Holy Moly there are like 200+ people here! I think this is because of the LEP charter.

  14. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    We stayed up to watch your testimony, and just when you were getting going the PPS TV station switched to something else!

    Can you post your prepared statement here?

  15. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Peter, I read the book,The Black Swan, which spends a lot of time debunking the whole bell curve idea. Pretty eye opening.

  16. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Here is my full testimony from last night:

    My name is Stephanie Hunter a parent of a Kindergartener at Ockley Green. Prior to entering kindergarten my daughter received early childhood special education with Multnomah Early Childhood Program (MECP). During the time she spent in MECP I also joined Multnomah Parent Action Committee (MPAC) which I continue to be a peer parent for and that serves as a community partner with MECP.
    My experience with MECP was wonderful. It is very difficult to realize that your child is not developing typically and it is a hard phone call to make to ask for help. From the first phone call to Kindergarten transition I was treated like an expert on my child, I was offered trainings, the teachers consistently raised the bar appropriately for my child, and the partnership with MPAC encouraged me and others to become peer parents to new families having children becoming eligible. I have to repeat: The process from start to finish was handled with expert care and professionalism.
    It has come to my attention that PPS has considered not renewing the contract with MECP for evaluations. I would like to ask this board to reconsider this decision. I would like to inform you that the shoes you would have to fill are large and the risks in my opinion outweigh the benefits. PPS may believe they could find financial savings in this decision but the dips in early intervention referrals that are inevitable will equal a large number of unidentified children needing more expensive supports and services when they enter kindergarten. Please allow MECP to continue doing the phenomenal job they have been doing.
    The changes proposed with MECP also have inspired another request to the board. Please do not make impactful decisions to the disability community without asking for our opinion. Self advocates say, “Nothing about us, without us” and it is unfortunate when decisions are made for students with disabilities that do not include the parents or students affected. I was before this board last year speaking about how the draft criteria of the plan to update schools did not mention a commitment to making all schools ADA accessible. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act has been in effect since 1975 and the IDEA and ADA since 1990. It is understandable that updating schools will take time and money but how much longer do students with disabilities and their parents have to wait to be acknowledged and included in the plan? Were I not a member of MPAC I would not have even known that MECP was at risk. The superintendent’s online budget says that contracts with MESD will be evaluated but is not specific.
    I would like to inform this board that the disability community would be thrilled to be engaged and if you need help with fundraising, getting facilities bonds passed, and just want to learn more you can contact the ARC of Multnomah County, MPAC, FACT, and Multnomah County Developmental Disabilities to name a few. Our families would be honored to help this district in any way if you would please just be sure we are a part of decisions made for us and our kids.
    Thank you for considering my request to allow MECP to continue doing evaluations for PPS and engaging the disability community when decisions will affect us.

  17. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Excellent, Stephanie, thanks.