Tag Archives: disabilities

Greene Valley closing delayed another six months

State officials said in a letter Wednesday that Greene Valley Developmental Center, the last state-run institution for people with disabilities in Tennessee and one of the largest employers in Greene County, will remain in operation for another six months, reports WJHL-TV.

The hundreds of employees still working at Greene Valley, have been told it would close in June of this year, then that was pushed back to December, and now it’s set to close in Spring of 2017.

Back in January of 2015, dozens of people protested to keep Greene Valley from closing. But now, the question isn’t if Greene Valley will close but when.

“I’ve been telling the state this for several years that it’s going to take a longer time to transition residents into the community then they’ve set a time frame to do so,” Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) said.

In the letter sent to employees, the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities sent to employees this week, it said challenges came up in building some of the private homes for residents transitioning out of Greene Valley. And because of that, Greene Valley will stay open until Spring of 2017.

The DIDD commissioner said in the letter that as they transition residents out of Greene Valley they will also reduce staffing.

DIDD spokesperson Cara Kumari said in a statement: “A significant percentage of employees working with persons supported at GVDC will have the opportunity to accompany them into their new community home and become employees of the private agency.”

State accepting IEA voucher applications; TEA fretting

Press release from state Department of Education
NASHVILLE— The Tennessee Department of Education announced today the launch of applications for its new Individualized Education Account (IEA) Program that provides the opportunity for parents of eligible students with disabilities to access public education funds to choose the education opportunities that best meet their child’s own unique needs.

“The Tennessee Department of Education strives to ensure that every Tennessee student has access to the tools they need to maximize learning,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “We believe this program is a unique opportunity to empower families to make decisions for their individual children as we continue our commitment to supporting all students as one of our five transformative priorities under under Tennessee Succeeds.”

The department is now accepting applications online for the program, which was sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Representative Debra Moody, R-Covington, and adopted by the General Assembly in 2015. Continue reading

Haslam eyes program to help intellectually disabled get jobs

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that a program to help people with intellectual disabilities find jobs makes sense, but he wants to learn more about it before investing $19 million.

The Republican governor heard from state health officials during a week of budget hearings at the state Capitol. He’s scheduled to hear from 26 state agencies as he crafts his annual spending proposal that will likely top $34 billion.

State health officials on Tuesday told Haslam that the job service would target people receiving home- and community-based services through TennCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, and that it’s part of a unique program where “employment and independent living is the first and preferred option” in assisting Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Haslam told reporters following the hearing that he favors the program but wants to dig down further and understand how it will work.

“Obviously, $19 million is a big chunk of new money,” he said. “The program does make sense to me.”
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No vouchers for special needs kids until 2017

A new state program allowing parents of Tennessee children with certain disabilities to get public funding for private education likely won’t be ready for enrollment until January 2017, reports Richard Locker.

The Legislature approved the Individualized Education Act in the closing days of this year’s session in April, making it the state’s first variation of a school-voucher program. Eligibility is limited to special-education students with individualized education plans and diagnosed with autism, deafness or blindness, hearing impairments, intellectual disability, orthopedic impairments, traumatic brain injury or visual impairments.

The state estimates about 22,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across Tennessee are eligible, but expects no more than 5 percent will enroll. The bill as originally drafted by state Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and state Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, its sponsors, made eligible any special-needs child with an individualized education plan, or IEP — an estimated 120,000 statewide — but the bill was amended to limit eligibility to those with the disabilities listed above.

The program essentially gives parents of special-needs children the choice of enrolling them in local public schools or in private schools, home school and an array of private services and therapies. The state will deposit the state and local per-student funding that would have paid for their public schooling into state-approved individualized education accounts, or IEAs, and parents will use the money to pay for whatever mixture of qualified private educational services they choose.

“The program provides options for parents and students to choose the education opportunities that best meet their own unique needs through access to public education funds,” said Rebecca Wright, the program’s director at the state Department of Education.

That’s an average of $6,600 per year, the amount generated per student under Tennessee’s Basic Education Program formula, according to testimony presented to the state Senate Education Committee last week. The amount does not include the average $2,433 per year that school systems spend on special education students above the BEP formula. The law does not require supplemental local spending to be transferred to parents who opt out of their public schools, and no federal funds are involved because federal money is drawn down only if the student is enrolled in a public school.

Although the law provides for “the first award of IEAs during the 2016-17 school year,” the program won’t be ready to accept applications until August 2016 and won’t enroll students or begin distributing funds until Jan. 1, 2017, Wright told the Education Committee last week.

That timetable surprised Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, a school-voucher advocate.

“I’m very concerned about this. Why does the rule-making process take so long, such that you would start in the middle of the school year instead of the beginning?” he asked Wright in Tuesday’s hearing. “That is a semester too late in my opinion. You’re not going to have a whole lot of participation, I wouldn’t think, for the second semester of a school year.”

But the law specifies the program cannot not go into effect before Aug. 1, 2016, and Wright said the state’s rule-making process is lengthy.

Clover Bottom Developmental Center dies, age 92

News release from Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
NASHVILLE—The final people with disabilities to receive services and supports at Clover Bottom Developmental Center (CBDC) are moving into their new community homes marking the closure of Tennessee’s first institution for the care of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In recent years, the state closed Nat T. Winston and Arlington Developmental Centers in West Tennessee. The closure of CBDC leaves Greene Valley Developmental Center (GVDC) in East Tennessee as the state’s only remaining institution for the care of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. GVDC is scheduled for closure in the summer of 2016.

“Closing the last of the large institutions in Tennessee, as challenging and difficult as it is, I believe will lead us to be one of the best states in regards to services for people with disabilities,” said Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) Commissioner Debra K. Payne. Commissioner Payne’s career in supporting people with disabilities began at CBDC in the 1970s. Payne went on to say, “I think institutional care served its purpose for many years. Today, there are many different options for people, and Tennessee is on the front edge of that.”
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School board member apologizes for ‘retarded’ tweet

Amid mounting criticism. Williamson County school board member Susan Curlee apologized Monday night for a controversial tweet that contained the word “retarded,” reports The Tennessean.

Curlee tweeted what some saw as an offensive definition of the word “twit” two weeks ago. The Urban Dictionary definition reads, “The kind of person that makes a retarded chimp look smart.”

The reference, according to Curlee’s tweet, was a critique of a parent’s Twitter handle. Parents and disability groups said Curlee’s decision to use a definition with the word “retarded” was insensitive to students with special needs.

“I am sorry that a word contained in a definition that was tweeted offended our special needs community,” Curlee said at Monday’s school board meeting. “That was never my intent. And I’m so sorry, and I hope that you accept my apology.”

…Public speakers at the board meeting welcomed Curlee’s apology but also spoke of their frustrations that an elected official would use a definition with the word “retarded.” Some speakers asked for a social media policy.

“One school board member’s social media use has been scandalous enough that it has been covered by the press,” said WCS parent Sara Melamed.

A social media policy should stress the importance of sensitivity to different points of view, said Melamed. It would also set parameters for when comments are deleted from a school board member’s social media account, she said.

…efore the board meeting, parents rallied in protest of Curlee’s tweet.

AP story on bill providing subsidies to parents of children with some disabilities

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill passed by Tennessee lawmakers could give parents of severely disabled children more than $6,000 a year to spend on education and therapies that they choose, though critics say the measure hands the money to parents with few safeguards.

Traditional vouchers give families whose children attend poor-performing public schools a way to pay for private schools. A measure in that vein failed this year, but lawmakers did approve the program for disabled children, giving parents much more freedom to determine how to spend the money. It is not clear if Gov. Bill Haslam will sign the bill into law. (Note: It’s HB138, sponsored by Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville.)

The money, a combination of state and local funds, could be used for private school tuition, approved therapies and tutoring. Participating parents would waive their federal right to an Individualized Education Program, which mandates that public schools provide disability-related services designed to meet a student’s unique learning needs. Some worry that waiving that right means less money for both the child that leaves and the local school district because of the loss of federal dollars.

Public school officials and parents have plenty of concerns. Some worry that children will leave for private schools that are ill-equipped, only to come back and need even more help. They also say that the program siphons money away from public schools, effectively taking dollars away from disabled children who remain in public schools.

Some also were concerned about fly-by-night operations bilking the system. They aren’t sure $6,600 a year is enough to ensure standards will remain in place to make sure children get what they need.

But supporters say safeguards are in place. For instance, parents would have to choose from state-approved vendors. And some parents say it gives them options for children who simply can’t attend a traditional school.
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Private schools serving disabled children see potential for some enrollment growth with new law

Organizations that serve children with disabilities are uncertain about how many parents will sign up for the “individualized education accounts” that will offer them state funds toward schooling costs, reports the Commercial Appeal. The bill (SB27) was approved by the legislature last week and the article cites Shelby County private schools, such as Madonna Learning Center, were officials are preparing to potentially served many more students.

Tennessee is now one of 11 states that allows parents of special education students to have state and local funds for their children’s schooling deposited in a portable account they can use to buy services in the private sector or provide the education at home and hire tutors, occupational therapists and other experts to help.

The fund in Shelby County would be worth about $6,600 a year per child. At Madonna Learning Center, temporarily located at Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordova while its Germantown campus undergoes construction, that’s more than half the tuition.

“We have a lot of parents who tour our facility and want to attend, but because of financial restraints, are unable,” said executive director Jo Gilbert.

“It also would benefit students already attending our school, making it easier for parents who are paying tuition.”

It’s impossible for Gilbert to predict how popular the savings accounts will be by the time they go into effect in the 2016-2017 school year. But at The Bodine School in Germantown, a private school that serves children with dyslexia, there will be no portable accounts for families of children with specific learning disabilities, by far the largest category of special needs children.

“On April 21, 2015, the Senate adopted an amendment outlining that all children with a disability, as defined in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, be included in this effort,” said Josh Clark, head of the school.

The next day, an amendment limited the kinds of disabilities that qualified, eliminating children with ADHD, dyslexia and other broad categories and reducing the number of children eligible from 120,000 to 18,000.

“While we are encouraged to see the state interested in creating solutions to reach students with special needs such as autism, deaf-blindness and hearing impairments, we are very disappointed to see approximately 102,000 children — the estimated number of students with a specific learning disability in Tennessee — left without the state’s support,” Clark said in an e-mail.

…Districts will save money if their special education numbers fall because in most cases, it costs more than $6,600 to provide the expertise the students require.

Districts on average spend $2,500 more per special education child.

“That’s $2,500 those districts are going to save per student,” said Ashley Ball, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

While the law says that students in grades 3-8 must take the state TCAP exam or some other nationally normed test, it’s not clear yet who will be responsible for the testing if the private provider doesn’t offer it. No one yet knows what standards vendors will have to meet to qualify.

“We’re still developing the process for that it will look like when vendors apply,” Ball said. “The session just ended, so we are starting from scratch on this.”

Note: See also WPLN, which notes proponents of the bill do not like to see subsidy described as a voucher.

Instead, state representative Debra Moody says it should be called an Educational Savings Account, limited to students with autism, intellectual disabilities or serious physical impairments.

It’s modeled after an Arizona program where parents are given a debit card to pay for schooling, therapies or homeschooling supplies from a list of approved providers.

But there’s one very big difference: in Arizona, a student can qualify for as much as 2-thousand dollars per month. Tennessee expects to pay out a much lower amount that Jonesboro Republican Matthew Hill considers inadequate. He worries a lot of parents will see the program as a “golden ticket,” remove their children from public school, then discover that $550 a month isn’t much help.

Judges OKs end to 20-year-old lawsuit over TN developmental centers

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has accepted the state’s proposal to close Tennessee’s last large facility housing mentally disabled people by the end of next June.

Media report that Judge Kevin Sharpe issued his ruling on Thursday, about a week after hearing arguments in Nashville for and against the closure of the Greene Valley Developmental Center in Greenville, which has nearly 100 residents and about 600 workers.

State officials recommended closing the facility to end a long-running lawsuit over care of the mentally disabled. They plan to move the residents into more community-like settings as part of a larger movement to improve services and get people out of large institutions.

The judge ruled the state’s proposal “benefits the public interest.”

“The court concludes that the exit plan presented by the parties is ‘fair, reasonable and adequate’ and provides the next iteration of improvement to the lives of those with disabilities in Tennessee. It will test political will and legislative leadership to continue that progress and to determine how best to care for those often left in the shadows,” he wrote.

He ruled that the families who tried to intervene to keep the center open did not file their motion in a timely manner and meet other requirements.

He did acknowledge their concerns, but said others have been moved out of institutions into alternative care facilities with favorable outcomes.

Note: Press release below.
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State plans closing of Greene Valley Developmental Center

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State officials have agreed to close a large facility in East Tennessee that houses mentally disabled people, but local officials say they will argue to keep it open.

The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities has submitted a plan to shut down Greene Valley Developmental Center by next June and move its nearly 100 residents into more home-like settings. According to media, the move would end a lawsuit filed against the state in 1995 over its care of mentally disabled people.

Tennessee Disability Coalition assistant director Donna DeStefano said the organization has pushed for more than two decades for people with intellectual disabilities to be moved into more community-like settings.

“People with all types of disabilities belong in the community with family and friends,” she said. “In institutions, staff are paid to be there. What happens is that everybody the person with disabilities knows is paid to be there. That’s an unequal relationship. In the community, it can be more equalized.”

Some in Greene County object to the proposal because they say the facility cares well for its residents, and it would put 600 people out of work.

“The concern of Greene Valley and Greene County communities is about the welfare of the residents currently living in Greene Valley,” said Rep. David Hawk, a Republican from Greeneville. “These residents are the most medically and mentally fragile Tennesseans. It’s going to be difficult to find care for those individuals outside the setting of Greene Valley.”

Family members “do not want their loved ones to leave,” he said.

A federal judge must decide whether to approve the plan. A hearing in the case is set for Jan. 21 in Nashville.