Joanna Bivens, Special Populations & Student Supports, Director of School Psychology Services
Jen Aprea: Hi everyone! Welcome to this week’s addition to our Q&A with the Department of Education. This week we are very excited. I will introduce myself for anyone new here. My name is Jen Aprea. I am the director of Family Engagement in Special Education for Arc of Tennessee. Since school is back and the COVID questions have trickled down. We have more questions related to what is going on in the department. We are bringing people from the Special Populations division to introduce themselves and explain their roles in the department. This week, we are so excited to have Joana Bivins. She is the director of school psychology services for the Special Populations division of the Department of Education.
Joanna Bivins: My role as the director of school psychology services has a lot of different responsibilities. Most of the time, school psychologists and school counselor. School Psychologist is trained in the evaluation and identification of educational disabilities. They also have training in behavior planning, counselling, consultation services with teachers, academic intervention, data analysis. I also help with answering questions about special education and 504 plans evaluations and eligibility and restraint and isolation- how to help navigate the laws and regulations
Jen Aprea: What are the biggest changes you’re noticing in Psychology Services during the time of COVID-19? How are schools adjusting?
Joana Bivins: I think we have all been impacted in some way. The biggest issue is the completion of initial and reevaluations. We have been working with schools to develop timelines.
Jen Aprea: My child is often on the honor roll ,but should still be able to receive services with him being on the spectrum. How can we get the schools to adapt to the needs of those that maybe aren’t struggling so much academically?
Jonna Bivins: Yes, it is possible for a student to have services regardless of grades. That is not the primary qualification that a student quality for special education services. IDEA states that all areas must be assessed for a student when expected of having a disability. Evaluations need to address all the student’s needs even if it is not related to the disability, but the overall impact.
Jen Aprea: We created a resource about Adverse Impact. I will post in the comments.
As a parent, what language should I use to make sure I am advocating to have my child tested for services? Sometimes it seems if the right thing isn’t said my child won’t be tested as fast as other children.
Jonna Bivins: I would just try to be clear as possible. If you think your student needs services if that is a possibility, you have the right to refer your child for an evaluation. “I want my child evaluated for special education to see if they have a educational disability because I have these concerns.” It is always good to have it documented in writing but is not required. A school team should consider this request in a timely manner without necessary delay. When they have written consent, that’s when the 60-day calendar begins. You should also get a prior written notice with the decision made. You can reach out with the school district special education supervisor, or department of education.
Jen Aprea: I also put the Prior Written notice resource in the links as well.
Jen Aprea: My child is in elementary school and has behavior issues. He has had a positive behavior plan written out. If he does not show improvement with the plan, what are some next steps the school may take?
Jonna Bivins: When an intervention has implemented, it often see behavior become more challenging before they improve because of change to the child’s ways and habits. It’s important to give it time to be effective even may take several weeks. After there is time and it has shown not to be effective, the team needs to decide what to go from there. This is a trail and error process to individually meet the needs of the student.
If the Behavior Plan is not being effective, here are some of the questions to discuss with the IEP team:
· Is the plan occurring the way in which you intended it to occur?
· Is it being consistently implemented?
· Are we doing things as we said that we would or are there some variations?
· Is there a way to adapt the interventions so that they can occur consistently and would potentially be effective.
· Continue to evaluate. Do we need to try something different? Can we revise the plan and try a different strategy?
· If a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) has not been completed prior to the Behavior Intervention Plan, it may be a good idea to request one. It would also be a good time to revise a FBA as well.
· Are there any changes at home?
Open communication between school and families is key!!
Jen Aprea: Should students receive a comprehensive re-evaluation prior to their 18th birthday to satisfy SSI requirements?
Joanna Bivins: Re-evaluations are done because of education reasons. The re-evaluation decisions are based questions that IDEA lays out includes:
· Does the team feel like the child continue to have a disability?
· Is there any educational needs not being addressed?
· Do we need to look at different services, modify or add things to the IEP?
There are some different aspects about graduation. When a child graduates, there should be a summary of functional and academic performance. It’s something to pass on to those who are providing post-secondary opportunities for the student.
Jen Aprea: What is a Functional behavior assessment?
Joanna Bivins: Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is basically an evaluation process that has an explanation search for a purpose behind the behavior- what’s motivating the behavior. Are they trying to attain something or avoid something? Is it sensory related? It’s based on a behavioral model- looking at the whole child in every setting beginning to end, what comes before the behavior, what comes after the behavior, gathering information.
FBA’s information gathering may include interviews with parents, teacher and student, data gathering including how long, how frequent, how intense to understand how much impact there is and what is continuing the behavior. All of the information from the FBA assessment together helps us form a hypothesis. The hypothesis tells us what we think is promoting the behavior and why the child is motivated to do this behavior. The FBA and hypothesis help form an effective Behavior Intervention Plan because it is addressing those motivations in different ways.
Jen Aprea: What should parents or guardians do when they feel their child has behaviors that interfere with the child’s learning or the learning of others?.
Joanna Bivins: If a child already has a IEP, it is important to see if the behavior has been addressed or need to be addressed differently. You can request an IEP meeting at any point and do not have to wait until the annual IEP Team meeting. In the IEP meeting, discuss the behaviors and discuss the impact it is having on the learning and educational setting. It is important to communicate to the IEP team those concerns and how to address them in the Least Restrictive Environment.
Jen Aprea: Do you have to have a Behavior Interventional Plan or FBA? Right now for my child, we are just communicating with each other.
Joanna Bivins: Absolutely. You can always reach out to your teacher or school counselor to see what those next steps will be. If you have a IEP and the behaviors are significant enough, it may be best to addendum to IEP. It may be a extra goal in the IEP to address the behavior instead of a full separate behavior intervention plan.
Jen Aprea: What is an applied Behavior analysis program? Is this method appropriate for middle school students?
Joanna Bivins: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a therapy and psychological learning approach to behavior. They focus on what comes before and after behavior. It is addressing through reinforcement techniques or other training techniques how to improve those behaviors. ABA is breaking down a large complex behavior into small pieces and building it to a sequence where the larger behavior is not occurred. It is a very detailed reinforcement program. This program is individualized to the student’s needs. It depends on the student whether it is appropriate.
Jen Aprea: My child bites their nails constantly, should this behavior be ignored or addressed?
Joanna Bivins: It’s depends on multiple factors. This needs to be discussed by the IEP team.
Jen Aprea: When emergencies happen at school, what types of behavior interventions should be used first?
Joanna Bivins: Emergency is a student who behavior poses a threat or safety to the physical safety to the student or others nearby. If you would like to review more, Special Education Behavior Supports Act (SEPBSA) is a good resource. SEPBSA outlines responsibilities for the school system, schools, IEP teams and how to address behavior with students with disabilities or students not receiving special education services. It lays out preventative approaches for de-escalation (able to decrease behavior) and prevention. It outlines training problems that school systems may incorporate.