Tag Archives: special needs

PCSing During the School Year: Be Prepared and Ask Questions

According to Department of Defense’s (DoD) Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the military moves roughly 530,000 service members and their families every year. More than half of those moves are during peak moving months of May through August. That leaves more than 250,000 service members and their families moving off season: during the academic school year.

While moving during the summer months may add a heavy workload to the DoD, moving in summer presents an ideal time for families to transfer schools without missing crucial educational requirements for military connected children. In contrast, moving the other 250,000 military members during the school year brings an entire new set of challenges for military members.

When changing schools during the year, there are plenty of hurdles both parents and students face. The important thing is to gather as much information and ask as many questions to school administrators and teachers before (and after) you PCS. Being organized and prepared is key to a successful mid school year transition.

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Here’s a solid checklist and questions for parents with school-aged kids to ask, but we’d love to hear some of your tips and tricks when moving during the school year, too!

Research and Compare Curriculum – Do your research before you move.

  • Will the school be able to meet the educational needs of your child?
  • Compare curricula of your current and new schools.. You need to know if your child will struggle to keep up or be ahead of peers and thus bored in the classroom.
  • Collect and review important schoolwork showing your child’s academic aptitude.
  • Compare current schoolwork to curriculum in new school. What type of math are they teaching? Does the school use Common Core or has it opted out?
  • Plan a conference for your child’s current teacher or counselor to review the new school’s curriculum.
  • Take a picture of your child’s text book covers, websites they use and gather work samples of current work.
  • Ask the new school how new students who are behind/ahead of current grade-level objectives are handled.

The Teacher(s) 

  • Educational continuity is at risk each time a military child – no matter what grade they are in – moves to a new school.
  • Teacher-to-Teacher Letter – A great preemptive idea is to have your child’s current teacher write a letter to the new teacher – even though you don’t know who it will be. This is a perfect venue for teachers to share information about your child’s learning methods or insight into behavior.
  • Meet with the your child’s current teacher before you PCS. Take lots of notes at a parent-teacher conference. These notes will be critical when you advocate for your child’s education or services at the next school.
  • Administrators Ask your current school to explain procedures for withdrawal and forwarding your child’s records to the new school.
  • Ask for a copy of your child’s records to hand carry to your new location.

Education Binder – Compile a binder that is home to all of your child’s important documents, including:

  • Report cards – all of them, even ones from previous schools.  It allow teachers to know the educational history of your child.
  • Schoolwork samples
  • Assessment results
  • Teacher comments and conference notes
  • Individual Education Plan
  • 504 plan
  • Shot records
  • Speech or occupational therapy evaluations/summaries
  • Letters from teachers (to teachers), including specialty teachers (music, coaches and art teachers, for example) if applicable
  • Test results (Cog AT, Iowa Assessments, reading readiness, SAT)

Families On The Homefront offers a free downloadable Operation Dandelion Kids Education Binder to help parents advocate for their child and help tell their child’s education history.

Know Your Rights

Military families have rights and responsibilities regarding children’s education. It’s up to you to understand these rights and responsibilities. Don’t leave your child’s right to a good education in the hands of a stranger. Own it!

  • Interstate Compact – Start here! Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission  is fighting to level the playing field for military family education.
  • The School Liaison Officer’s job is to help parents navigate the local school system, every base/post has one, contact them for insights about your school or if you have problems with placement of services.

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Information About Your New School

  • School calendar – Ask for the new school’s calendar right away. It will list important dates you need to know.
  • Registration requirements – Every school is different but most schools require PCS orders, proof of residency and immunization records.
  • Holiday hours – Call the new school and learn when the school will be open to register and take a tour hours.
  • Appropriate placement – Gifted and Talented and special needs programs often differ between schools. Understand what the school offers and how placement works for your child.
  • How does the new school handle new students with IEP/504 plans, documented academic struggles and/or academic discrepancies?
  • How do they program for Gifted and Talented students? Not all schools are equal when it comes to curriculum or testing.
  • Speak with a grade-level teacher and/or counselor to get a feel for the school climate and available programs.
  • Does the school offer a way for your child to connect with a peer school is back in session?
  • Secondary students: understand transferring credits, graduation requirements, ranking and how to determine appropriate academic placement.

Contact Your New School – Once you arrive, get on the phone and be ready to get to work.

  • Register and tour the school as soon as possible. Bring the education binder with all your important documents, share your education binder when you register so staff can place your child accordingly.
  • Ask about the school’s procedure for reviewing and implementing a new student’s IEP or 504 plan. Schedule any necessary meetings to review your child’s IEP or 504 plan.
  • Ask about procedures for parent/teacher conferences, schedule on within the first two weeks of school and share your education binder with the teacher as well.
  • Don’t be shy. Parents need to be involved within weeks of arrival at their new location. There will be a ton of information and insights you WON’T have access to unless you make yourself available and start connecting.

Organization and preparation are keys to a smooth school transition, especially one during the year. The loss of support, routines, and social networks associated with changing schools can be challenging for both children and parents. Being prepared for this transition is your best chance to ease the anxiety of changing schools. Start early and be sure to follow up when you arrive. We all know that as parents, we aren’t happy in a new location until our children are happy and settled.

Have you recently moved during the school year? What is the best piece of advice you have for others?

stacy-huismanPosted by Stacy Huisman, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Air Force spouse, mother, and freelance writer. Stacy was published in the popular book “Stories Around the Table – Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life.” She is also a judge for Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year 2015. 

Smooth Moves: How to PCS with Your MilKid’s IEP or 504 Plan

Moving with the military is always extremely fun. It’s like a game: what will they break this time? I bet $100 it’s your great-grandmother’s irreplaceable antique tea set.

The other part of moving that is always especially wonderful is finding a new school for the kids. I know you just can’t wait to do this! And for those who are traveling with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan, this process is just super smooth, right?!

All kidding aside, moving is hard and trying to find a district or school that will meet your child’s educational needs is unbelievably challenging. But, armed with a little knowledge, the process doesn’t have to be a battle.

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Get the records.
Get all of the records from the school that you are leaving. This is your right under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The law states your school must provide access (copies) to your child’s educational file upon your request. Since we all know you are more likely to get service with a smile if you use a little courtesy, it is best to let your school know about your request a few weeks before you move. And if they give you any pushback, remind them about the law. Lots of school will offer to send those records along for you, but as a teacher and mom, I would always feel better if I have a copy to hand carry in addition to the forwarded copy.

Know the law.
While each district might have its own forms, and each state might tweak the process a little bit, an IEP or 504 Plan is a federally protected legal document and must be adhered to until the new district convenes a meeting, or requests new evaluations. In other words, if a child is getting specific services in District 1 of North Carolina, the new school in California must provide comparable services until a new IEP is agreed to. The word comparable is important, since the law doesn’t require an exact match in services, just similar services.

Bonus: There is new language in the Federal Register that took effect on July 27 that requires DOD schools to comply with federal regulations about accepting IEPs from other school systems.

On the downside, private schools are not required to provide comprehensive services for students who have IEPs. Some schools do go above and beyond. And public school districts may be required to provide equitable services, but these will likely not be an extensive as if your child were placed in a public school setting.

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Know your rights.
You have federally protected rights that are mandated in ALL states. You have the right to:

  • understand the procedural safeguards
  • inspect and review educational records
  • participate in all educational meeting
  • request an outside independent educational evaluation or IEE (this is NOT required to be paid for by the school district for 504 Plans)
  • to receive prior written notice about all meetings and proposed changes to the IEP/504 Plan
  • to consent or withhold consent (withholding consent means that the current IEP will continue until a consensus on a new IEP is reached)
  • to use mediation or other means specified in IDEA 2004 to resolves disputes

Make a Friend
This might be the most important thing you can do. Teachers know the system, the laws, and have access to all of the educational options in the district. They know what is available, reasonable, and what is considered best practice. You need your teachers on your side.

I know we can all become a protective ‘Momma Bear’ when it comes to our kids, but pull that bear back to the mouth of cave. Teachers are highly educated and certified professionals, so take every opportunity to listen to their advice. She might be seeing things that you aren’t, or see a different way to approach a difficult situation.

You don’t need to bake her a cake, although teachers do love cake. Just keep her in the loop from the first day of school. Let her know all about your child, and the strengths and weaknesses you see. Advise her about what has, and has not, worked in the past; she will thank you for not letting her go down a dead end street. Above all, treat her like a professional who takes her career seriously, and who loves your child.

With your records in hand, a good grasp on your laws and rights, and with an ally in the classroom, even moving schools with an IEP or 504 Plan can be made slightly easier.

What tips would you add for military families with IEP or 504 Plans?

meg-flanaganPosted by Marguerite Flanagan, M.Ed, founder of MilKids Education Consulting, a blog focusing on military and special needs children offering practical tips, fun ideas, and advice on decoding the very dense special education laws.

Some are All Talk…We’re Not!

Girl-with-Yellow-Ribbon“Our Association’s highest priority is to fight for military families. We fight to protect the programs and services that allow them to meet the challenges of military life and maintain readiness. Our Nation’s leaders cannot ignore the promises they made to those currently serving as they prepare to shape the force of the future.”

Each year, the National Military Family Association develops our Legislative and Policy Priorities list. We don’t do it in a vacuum. We incorporate the concerns we’ve heard from military families. We listen to what our volunteers are telling us from the field. We look at gaps in legislation that has already been passed. We dust off some issues that we’ve promoted for years. We beat the drum on the need for sustaining the programs military families use that work. We seek advice from our Board of Governors and other experts.

This year we paid special attention to the uproar on social media when the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for retired pay was reduced by one percent, as well as when military families were impacted by sequestration and the government shutdown. We heard you loud and clear! Our military families and their service members never fail to answer the call. In return, our government has promised to provide them with the resources to keep them ready. You asked Congress to #KeepYourPromise, and in our priorities, we ask Congress and Department of Defense (DoD) to do just that.

We ask Congress and DoD to guarantee, and sustain, the resources necessary to safeguard the readiness of military families. Like protecting the commissaries, where savings are such an important part of compensation. And ensuring access to high quality health care and preventive health care services. Our families are still healing from over a decade of war – they need medical and non-medical counseling readily available. Our kids have served, too – make sure the schools they go to thrive with help from Impact Aid and DoD grants and supplemental aid. Although the wars are winding down, don’t forget the wounded and their caregivers, who still face the uncertainties of their recoveries or the new realities they must deal with as a family.

There are some areas where the readiness of our military families can be improved and refined. We need more forward motion on standardizing programs for families with special needs across the Services. Enhance the spread of information about tools to help military spouses with education and employment. Some families need to be better equipped to react to the stresses of military life that can result in domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect, and sexual assault. Help them negotiate the confusion of installation, State and Federal agencies. Our survivors need to be able to receive all the benefits they are entitled to – end the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset to Survivor Benefit Plan. And how can we better prepare those families who are facing an end to their military service, through their choice or the government’s, while they are still serving? How do we help them negotiate a successful transition to civilian life?

I’ve just given you a quick overview of our priorities’ statement – the Association Legislative and Policy Priorities for for 2014. It gives us a starting point. By no means do we limit our advocacy to these few issues. We expand on it for our statement to the Armed Services Committees. We refine it when necessary to shine a light on a specific issue or policy. Read it over and let us know what you think. And please know that we are always ready to address issues affecting military families as they arise. We fight for you and for all military families.

What would you tell Congress and DoD are most important? What’s your military family story about one of the issues we’ve outlined above?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

Our Military Family Adoption Story

lori-brown-guest-post2Adoption within a military family is often confusing, and can leave you feeling alone on an island. How do I start? How much will it cost? Is this right for my family?

For 19 years, my husband has been active duty with the Marine Corps. We have 2 typical kids, ages 18 and 16, and we also have an exceptional family member, Hunter, who is 13 years old with special medical needs.

In September 2011, we met Hunter’s school nurse, who was in the process of adopting a special needs little girl. She introduced us to the world of foster and adoption. After quite a bit of talking to each other, and to our kids, my husband and I realized we had room in our heart, and in our home, for another child. This was the beginning of our adoption journey.

Most military families aren’t aware that no matter where they are stationed, adoption through foster care is possible – even if you are stationed OCONUS. Out-of-pocket expenses are minimal, unlike foreign adoptions which can cost more than $20,000.

Military families are strong, adaptable, and resourceful, making them perfect candidates to be foster/adoption parents. There are many county, state and foster agencies that love to work with military families, so check around your area to find an agency that works best for your family. Don’t be discouraged if some don’t work out initially.

After a few ‘false starts,’ we found a great Foster Family Agency that appreciated our experience as special needs parents. They also understood that as a military family, we have a special ‘skill set’ that some might not have. My husband and I attended multiple classes specific to foster, adoption, special medical health needs, and CPR/first aide in order to become licensed as a foster home. At the end of that, we were able to become a licensed foster family. In our hearts, we knew that we wanted to foster and adopt special needs children.

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We were blessed to be matched with our daughter, Destiny, who is now three years old, shortly after becoming licensed. In her young life, Destiny has faced multiple of medical procedures with no one by her side. She was born with several birth defects, including a heart with no left ventricle.

Destiny had been in the foster care system for 17 months with six failed potential adoption matches. On paper, Destiny’s medical history is scary. When we first learned about Destiny, we asked to meet with her doctors to get some of our questions answered. After only 2 hours, my husband and I knew we could meet Destiny’s medical needs, so we moved forward with having her placed in our home.

Since Destiny came to live with us on February 1, 2012, she has made great advances developmentally, emotionally, and medically. She had many sensory issues to work through due to her lack of exposure to everyday things in the real world. Prior to Destiny being placed in our home, she had never touched carpet, tile, grass or sand – things we see and touch nearly every day.

She had two open heart surgeries before coming home to us. In July 2013, Destiny had her third surgery with us by her side the entire time, and she pulled through it with flying colors! She has a lot of fear related to abandonment, but I think she has come to realize the promise we made to her was true: we would always be by her side, and she would never have to go through any medical procedures alone. Destiny is still delayed developmentally, but has made huge strides and is now only six months behind her typical peers.

Destiny is loved and adored by our three older kids. We are very thankful we learned about adoption and fostering. Our family will most likely adopt again, but for now we are doing foster and foster respite care.

I want to encourage other military families to look into becoming foster parents or foster/adopt parents. The children within the foster care system range from newborns to age 18. There are all races, some with special needs, but a lot more with no special needs.

Even though our homes may change every few years in a military family, yours could be the ‘forever home’ that a foster child is waiting for.

lori-brown-guest-postGuest Post by Lori Brown, Marine Corps Spouse

An Advocate is Born: Affecting change for military families

Susan-Reynolds-and-son

We have all heard the phrase from William Shakespeare, “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

A few years ago I was content with my starring role in the production of “Susan’s Military Life”. An active volunteer, educator, mentor, and friend were my starring roles. That changed when my infant son was denied healthcare coverage for a cranial reshaping helmet. I was offered a different role – the role of a lifetime – and I couldn’t pass it up.

The National Military Family Association and I were introduced in October 2011 when I was asked to be a volunteer. From there I discovered a world of advocacy that I never knew existed. The Association was working on issues ranging from education to healthcare. I fell in love and knew I was ‘home’.

In July 2012, I was invited to a conference in Washington, D.C. to tell my son’s story. In two days I had eight meetings on Capitol Hill and my performance had to be flawless. Fortunately, I had great support from the Association’s Government Relations department, as well as Kara Oakley from the Children’s Hospital Association.

The National Military Association encouraged me to use my voice to advocate for my son and all military children. I learned not to be afraid to share my story because I had a gift for speaking. You see, according to the Association, my story and my voice is powerful and should not be forgotten.

A year has passed since those meetings, and so many doors have opened because I’m a volunteer with National Military Family Association. The Association has helped me define my story and because of their support, I’m a stronger, more confident volunteer and advocate for military families.

As the saying goes, “a star is born every second.” In my case, an advocate was born and is supported by the National Military Family Association.

Susan ReynoldsBy Susan Reynolds, National Military Family Association Volunteer

The Power of Volunteering

The power of volunteeringApril 21-27 is designated as National Volunteer Week and this year’s theme is “Celebrate Service.” The National Military Family Association is celebrating our volunteers, both past and present, who have made a profound contribution to the Association and the military families we serve. Today’s post is written by a volunteer about a volunteer, and is just one highlight of the great work all our volunteers do!

“Never be afraid to ask what you can do, because even if something seems really small, it can still help,” says Susan Reynolds, a military spouse and volunteer for the National Military Family Association. This philosophy, an unshakable optimism, and a genuine desire to contribute to her community keeps Susan fighting hard for military kids and families. She is committed to making sure that military kids, especially those with special needs, get the quality medical care they need and deserve.

Susan’s initiative started when her son was diagnosed with plagiocephaly, a condition defined by an asymmetrical distortion, or flattening, of one side of the skull. Her son needed a reshaping helmet, which she was told was not covered by TRICARE. The helmets can cost up to $5,000. Luckily, she and her husband were able to pay for it out of their savings account. However, she realized that not every military family could afford to do the same. “I don’t care what your rank is, that is a lot of money to come up with right away,” Susan says.

Even worse than the cost of the treatment was the uncertainty and delay Susan faced in getting her son properly diagnosed. “I was really given the runaround from the military treatment facility about TRICARE and what his course of treatment was,” Susan explains. Her experience convinced her that TRICARE and DoD can and must do better to ensure that military kids, especially those with special needs, are getting the care they need.

Susan soon became a tireless advocate for military kids and families. She worked closely with our Association’s Government Relations Department to understand TRICARE policy and how it should be changed. She founded support groups for military families with special needs children and met with Congressional staff members and other officials to share those families’ stories. During this time, while her husband deployed to Afghanistan, Susan’s home was hit by a tornado, but she never allowed herself to be distracted from her objective: to fight for military children.

Thanks in part to Susan’s efforts, Congress included a provision in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act directing the Department of Defense to study TRICARE and its policies regarding care for kids. The provision, known as TRICARE for Kids, aims to develop and encourage health care practices addressing the specific needs of military children. “It was just so exciting to know that something I had worked on with the Association was passed,” Susan says. For her, knowing the President signed the bill that includes this provision is among her most rewarding and exciting achievements. She continues to work hard, however, to make sure that the results of the study reflect the real needs of military children and families.

To Susan, being a volunteer for the Association is her part time job. She enjoys reading, doing research, and keeping an eye on different issues happening in her local community and the greater military community. She never hesitates to talk about the Association and the people and organizations that she is involved with. She goes to key spouse meetings, to community blueprint meetings, talks to local nonprofits, and reports information associated with the military.

Susan will continue to work with the Association and to represent military families, as she wants to ensure people’s voices are being heard. She has received various awards and recognition  including one of the Air Force General’s coins. On more than one occasion, Susan was nominated as Air Force Spouse of the Year by different spouse magazines. Nevertheless, to her, knowing that she can make a difference and serve her community is the greatest reward.

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

We fight for military families: the Association’s 2013 priorities, Part 3

We fight for military families: the Association’s 2013 priorities, Part 3This is Part 3 of a series explaining the National Military Family Association’s legislative priorities for 2013. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Some issues affecting military families can only be taken care of through Congressional action. We see most of the work on these issues being addressed through the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets the laws and regulations for Department of Defense (DoD) and the Services to follow. The funding of this legislation comes through the House and Senate Appropriations Committees with the Defense Appropriations bill and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.

Congress did not pass the Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13), which began on October 1, 2012. They passed a Continuing Resolution or CR, which forced DoD to work on 2013 missions, projects, and programs with 2012 levels of funding. The current Continuing Resolution will expire March 27. While military paychecks are protected for 2013, essential services could shut down if the CR is allowed to expire. This isn’t the first year we have had the threat of a government shutdown.

Pass the NDAA FY14

This is why our first “ask” for Congress is to pass the National Defense Authorization Act for FY14 and the bills that fund this legislation by October 1 in order to eliminate the uncertainty faced by the military community.

Increase Impact Aid

If you have children attending public schools, you should be aware of how important Impact Aid funding is to local school districts that educate large numbers of military children. We’re asking Congress to increase the level of Department of Education Impact Aid funding to meet the Federal obligation to support school districts educating military children and continue to fund the DoD supplemental impact aid and grant program. Impact Aid funding has not kept pace with rising education costs.

Protect surviving spouses

Survivors of service members who have died on active duty or from a service-connected disability are unfairly penalized by having their Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity offset by the Department of Veterans Affairs Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payment. Under current law, survivors who are eligible for both SBP and DIC must forfeit a dollar of their SBP annuity for every dollar of DIC received. Often the offset eliminates the SBP annuity altogether. We ask Congress to end the DIC dollar for dollar offset of SBP payments for surviving spouses. For more details on this issue, visit the Survivors section on our website.

Ease transitions for the whole family

DoD does not always need Congressional approval to improve or change policies. We are asking DoD to address the informational needs of military families transitioning out of the military by expanding the opportunity for spouses to attend transition classes with service members and tailor information to address family transition issues.

Support families with special needs

It can often take DoD a long time to implement programs mandated by Congress. In the NDAA FY13, Congress charged DoD to start a pilot program to provide therapy for some families with special needs. We want DoD to implement the new pilot program to provide Applied Behavior Analysis to ALL eligible TRICARE beneficiaries.

If you have questions about our priorities for 2013 or would like to provide us with information about how these issues will affect you and your family, please leave a comment below. As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog series, we are sharing your stories, your experiences, and your suggestions to improve the quality of life for military families.

These are not the only issues we will be advocating for. When a new challenge surfaces that affects military families, we will make sure it is brought to the attention of the policymakers who can make a difference. We are listening to you and for you. We are your voice.

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director at the National Military Family Association