Archived: Early Stages FY18 Campaign

To take action during the FY18 Budget Season, click here for some advocacy tools.

Early Stages, a DC Public Schools assessment center for children between the ages of 2 years 8 months and 5 years 10 months, is threatening to stop direct assessment services to these children enrolled in DC Public Schools. If these changes are to go into effect in the School Year 2017-2018, it is unclear how these changes will impact:

  • Evaluation services for families planning on enrolling their child in a Pre-K program at a DC Public School that do not yet have an IFSP or an IEP and will be in need of an assessment;
  • Re-evaluation services for families of a child with an established IEP approaching their 6th birthday, preparing to transition this child from Pre-K to general education;
  • Evaluation services for families planning on enrolling their Pre-K aged child in a non-DC Public School (i.e. day care or DC Public Charter school);
  • Evaluation Services for families of children with a suspected yet undiagnosed developmental delay or disability between the ages of 2 years 8 months and 5 years 10 months that are not enrolled in a formal education setting (i.e. receiving home care with parent or dedicated care taker)
The lack of clarity and transparency of how these cases will be handled if the proposed changes take place, and the impact on access to FAPE, are disconcerting .
Here are some details to help understand the bigger picture of what is happening:
  • Part of the system of identification for a child with a disability includes the Universal Screening Process, of which must be done within 45 days of enrollment or the first day school – which is a questionnaire known as the Ages and Stages Questionnarie (ASQ) that parents fill out and return for evaluation to determine eligibility).  The DC Action for Children organization issued a policy brief entitled “Early Intervention and Special Education in DC for Children Ages Birth to 5“. This policy brief written in June 2013, outlines a program map detailing the how not just the parents but also a medical care provider, child care worker or other adult suspects an infant or toddler of having a developmental delay.  But, without seeing Early Stages new protocol in print, it is impossible to know actually what is being proposed. So a big push is to get OSSE and DCPS to be transparent in changes to policies and procedures impacting children with disabilities
  • There’s a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that started in 2005 that is still pending (D.L. vs District of Columbia, D.D.C., Civ. No. 05-1437). The claims made related to DCPS’s failure to provide adequate and timely special education and related services to 3 to 5 year old children, which violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and DC Law.  The most compelling argument for this case is “…In the first few years of a child’s life, there exists a narrow window of opportunity in which special education, tailored to the child’s particular needs, can work a miracle.’[S]omewhere in the neighborhood of 75 to 80 percent’ of the disabled children who are found in the community and served by quality early intervention programs will go on to kindergarten alongside every other ordinary 5-year-old – without needing further supplemental special education.” Thus, proper delivery of services in Early Childhood Education is CRITICAL and justifying this prolonged case.
2010-11 DC was found liable in violating the IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act and DC law
2011 the district court issued an injunction requiring substantial improvements
2013 the court of appeals reversed based on class certification issues relating to the then Supreme Court decision in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v Dukes (which was 2007 class action gender discrimination case against Walmart that won and Walmart appealed on the grounds that the plaintiff’s didn’t have enough in common to constitute a “class” and because circumstances varied, the Supreme Court voted unanimously in Walmart’s favor in 2011)
The court then certified 4 subclasses in the lawsuit, which include pre-school aged children with disabilities in DC:
(1) those who were not or will not be identified and/or located for the purposes of offering special education and related services;
(2) those who did not or will not receive an initial evaluation within 120 days of the date of referral for the purposes of offering special education and related services;
(3) those who did not and will not receive a determination of eligibility within 120 days of the date of referral for special education and related services; and
(4) those who did not or will not have a smooth and effective transition from Part C services (i.e. early intervention from 0 to 2 years 8 months) to Part B (special education for children 3yrs+) by the child’s third birthday.
2015 after a second round of discovery, the district court concluded again that the DC violated the IDEA and District law up to April 6, 2011 for failure to:
– identify children with disabilities
– timely evaluate them
– timely issue eligibility determinations
– smoothly and effectively transition them from Part C to Part B
November 2015 a trial was held on the remaining claims under IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act and DC law
May 18, 2016 the district court found DC liable for violating the children’s rights and issued an injunction, ordering specific corrective actions, including that DC ensure that:
(1) at least 8.5% of children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old who reside in DC or are wards of the District receive necessary special education and related services (NOTE: nationally, 2.67% children under the age of 3 are enrolled in a Part C program, yet nearly 13% of all children under age 3 should e served, using the current eligibility criteria – taken from Eastern Seals report);
(2) at least 95% of all children between the ages of 3 and 5 yrs old referred for special education services receive a timely eligibility determination; and
(3) at least 95% of all children receiving Part C services that are found eligible for Part B receive a smooth and effective transition to those Part B services by their 3rd birthdays
Also, DC was ordered to correct several metrics that it uses to measure compliance with the court issued benchmarks, which allowed the District to appear that it was performing much better than it was. Here’s a link to a report issued in 2014 entitled ” Initiatives from Preschool to Third Grade:  A Policymakers Guide” that explores the methods of Pre-K evaluation, noting that 43 states have developed or are piloting a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) and for K-3 in over 40 states use the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) as a teacher evaluation system rather than a student outcome data. Both metric systems are used to ensure that early education schools are on a path of continuous quality improvement (CQI).
OSSE currently uses the CLASS system, notable in the 2016-17 Performance Management Framework Policy and Techical Guide from the public charter school board. It is unclear to me if DCPS uses it, as well as PCS.  It is also unclear to me if DCPS currently uses QRIS or if this part of the court’s ruling as a more sound way of measuring student performance for PreK to 3rd grade. It looks like OSSE released an RFA on August 10, 2016 seeking FY17 Quality Facilitators for the Enhanced QRIS.
In any case, in 2016, the courts also ruled that DC is required to provide annual reports on its compliance with the numerical benchmarks and semi-annual reports regarding compliance with other programmatic requirements. The injunction will remain in effect until DC has demonstrated sustained compliance with its requirements. The court noted that the DCPS Child Find system (which was developed in 2010 as comprehensive child find system from birth through age 21 as required by the IDEA and DC Law) was ineffective and that transition policies are troubling given all that’s happened in the past decade of the law suit and that the “[District’s] presistent failure to live up to their statutory obligations, a failure that works a severe and lasting harm on one of society’s most vulnerable populations – disabled preschool children – is deeply troubling”.
Early Stages is part of OSSE’s Department of Special Education ,DC Early Intervention Program (DC EIP) as the lead agency for Part C of the IDEA and as such, is responsible for coordinating the planning and implementation of child find activities for children from birth through age two.
June 16, 2016, DC appealed the court’s decision and that appeal is currently pending and then on September 28, 2016, the plaintiff’s counself filed a motion for an award of litigation costs totalling over $10 million. On February 11, 2017, DC filed an opposition to this motion
Also, here’s a link to OSSE’s legal obligation to SPED students (Special Education Policy DCMR Title 5, Chapter 30, Section 3000-3033)
**please see Section 3005 that speaks on the responsibility of all local education agencies (LEA) in respect to evaluation and and reevaluation to ensure that a full and individual evaluation is conducted for each child being considered for special edcuation and related services in order to determine if the child has a disabiilty and, if so, meet the educational needs of the child in a TIMELY manner.***
To take action during the FY18 Budget Season, click here for some advocacy tools.