Wednesday, February 16, 2011

SLP Corner: Alaska SPED law and IEPs

This is part-two of of being a speech therapist in Alaska. See the last post for details about my caseload.

The IEP process here is a bit different. They use a software program called Goal View. It's okay but I prefer SEIS. Most schools have a "data clerk". This person handles all the IEP paperwork! If I need an assessment plan signed by parents, I tell my clerk. If I need to discharge a kid, I tell my clerk and she calls the parents, tells them what we need, sends the paperwork out and voila! Before an IEP the clerk brings me a file of all the IEP papers for the meeting -- I don't even have to print anything out! When the meeting is over I enter my notes online, give the signature page to the clerk and she finalizes the IEP online and then sends hard copy to the district office. It's a dream come true.

All IEPs are scheduled during the school day. No more 7am IEPs or going until 5:30pm! They can do this because there is a "building sub". Basically a substitute teacher that is available all day for any teacher that may need it, for whatever reason. It works out great. There's no arguing from anyone about how they can't make the meeting or they never got the notice, blah, blah, blah. Oh, and the clerk handles all the meeting scheduling! I just show up! 

IEPs tend to be run in a more formal manner clearly stating why we're there, and going step by step through the IEP. If I have a speech-only kid who has been been having services for awhile then I tend to skip over all the non-applicable stuff. One person that I work with still goes through every detail (things like, is this student blind or hard of hearing)! It feels a bit prescribed and Stepfordish. It's just not my cliff notes style of saying what needs to be said.

I've had to get to know the Alaska SPED eligibility criteria. Which didn't take long considering it basically says it's up to your clinical judgement. Great. For speech and language impairment there is basically no standard. This is the eligibility criteria:
j) To be eligible for special education and related services as a child with a speech or language impairment, a child must 

(1) exhibit a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects educational performance; 

(2) require special facilities, equipment, or methods to make the child's educational program effective; 

(3) be diagnosed by a physician, a speech-language pathologist, or a speech-language therapist as speech or language impaired; and 

(4) be certified by the group established under 4 AAC 52.125(a) (2) as qualifying for and needing special education services
There is nothing stated in terms of number of standardized tests and number of standard deviations from the mean to base eligibility on. Because of this there are a lot of kids who have been qualified based on one subtest of the CELF. Can you imagine? Not even based on the Core Index but a subtest! I think much of my work until the end of the school year is going to be exiting kids. There do seem to be "district preferences" but I can't get a clear answer as to whether these are purely preferences or what the law states. For example, I put a kid on consult and was told the district prefers not to follow a consult model. I did it anyway. Get him out of my speech room!

Before you rush out to get your Alaska license, I don't think my set up here is the norm. I've talked to other SLPs in the district and they are all overrun. There are no state or district caps on caseloads! Some people have caseloads of 80-90. I have to say I'm grateful for my experience at AUSD. I feel like AUSD gave me great experience in developing my own clinical judgement in where to draw the line. If I had this job first and then went to a place like AUSD, I'd have no idea what working in a school is really about, or how to argue for or against making a student eligible for services. Now though, I feel that I can make a good decision about eligibility based on my experience, or at least know who to talk to if I don't!  I can still hear Dr. Mahendra admonishing us that *we* are the trained professionals. Oh Lord. Will we ever feel that way?

Oh, and this is fascinating! Again, according to Alaska state law, speech therapy can be given by an aide. Not a certified SLPA but a paraprofessional aide. The law stipulates that the aide must be supervised by an licensed SLP and needs to be trained in the service that he or she is delivering. How you train an aide to do speech therapy without that person going through the trauma we experienced called grad school, I don't know. 

So not only do I have a data clerk at my disposal, I have a full-time aide at the elementary school and a part-time aide at jr/sr high school! I think as a state they've had to adopt this model because of the rural school districts. Apparently it's not unusual for an SLP to travel to a district either monthly or quarterly to monitor progress, do evals, make recommendations, etc. Then, when the SLP isn't there other school staff implement IEP goals and recommendations. 

It's been an adjustment getting used to these aides and clerks and in general having other people do my work. I'm used to doing it all by myself and not asking for help. Somehow though, I'm muddling through and discovering that I'm a good delegator! 

What else? I like being a contractor. It helps to keep from getting embroiled in district politics. Also, my contract is very clear about my hours: 7 hours a day, absolutely no overtime. Not a problem! I can't have work cutting into my sleeping time anyhow! 

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