Wednesday, July 11, 2007

CCSD: Special Needs Catching Up on Mandates

Now showing signs of progress, CCSD is publicizing the phasing in of a five-year plan to redistribute special needs children to their "home" schools. However, according to a recent P & C article, "The law doesn't require students with disabilities to be educated at their home school, but district officials are going beyond what's mandated to try to make that happen."

In fact, district officials are carefully phasing in mandates required by IDEA 2004--that's the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 as amended in 2004.

What the Act actually mandates is the following:

"The Department [of Education] has consistently maintained that a child with a disability should be educated in a school as close to the child's home as possible, unless the services identified in the child's IEP require a different location. Even though the Act does not mandate that a child with a disability be educated in the school he or she would normally attend if not disabled, section 612(a)(5)(A) of the Act presumes that the first placement option considered for each child with a disability is the regular classroom in the school that the child would attend if not disabled, with appropriate supplementary aids and services to facilitate such placement. Thus, before a child with a disability can be placed outside of the regular educational environment, the full range of supplementary aids and services that could be provided to facilitate the child's placement in the regular classroom setting must be considered. Following that consideration, if a determination is made that a particular child with a disability cannot be educated satisfactorily in the regular educational environment, even with the provision of appropriate supplementary aids and services, that child could be placed in a setting other than the regular classroom.

"Although the Act does not require that each school building in an LEA be able to provide all the special education and related services for all types and severities of disabilities, the LEA has an obligation to make available a full continuum of alternative placement options that maximize opportunities for its children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled peers to the extent appropriate. In all cases, placement decisions must be individually determined on the basis of each child's abilities and needs and each child's IEP, and not solely on factors such as category of disability, severity of disability, availability of special education and related services, configuration of the service delivery system, availability of space, or administrative convenience. "

Now, this law requires major reconfiguration of CCSD's special education programs--and who would complain about that? Judging from the statements by Connie Mathis, CCSD's executive director of special education, the District is edging carefully into compliance, with the first 100 students placed in home schools to be those with the least disabilities. However, nothing in the article indicates that CCSD is "going beyond what's mandated," and I suspect Mathis did not say that it is.

It would be nice to think that CCSD would go beyond mandates out of the goodness of its heart, but such isn't the case. Instead, let's commend it on its careful plan to make sure that the inclusion of these special students in the general classroom works to the benefit of all.

I'll now horrify some of you by quoting President Bush, whose No Child Left Behind Act is also impacting special education:
"America's schools educate over 6 million children with disabilities. In the past, those students were too often just shuffled through the system with little expectation that they could make significant progress or succeed like their fellow classmates. Children with disabilities deserve high hopes, high expectations, and extra help. . . . We're applying the reforms of the No Child Left Behind Act to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act so schools are accountable for teaching every single child."
It's not only students with disabilities who have been "just shuffled through the system with little expectation." Let's hope this new attitude carries over to other aspects of CCSD.


Anonymous said...

I hope this is a sign that things within CCSD are improving. The assumption that they are going "above and beyond" does bother me. I'm tired of CCSD's spin. They need to be honest. How else will they build public trust and confidence? Responding to students with special needs, especially those with disabilities that can be addressed with common sense and closer to home, is over due. Screening and assessing those needs accurately has also been a problem. Too often students have been dumped into classrooms and schools that are detrimental for all concerned. An example was that Chas. Progressive was willing to accept LD students with learning disabilities (for example dylexia or ADD) only to discover that CCSD was sending them students who were ED (emotional disabilities) but who were either incorrectly assessed or were being conveniently dumped on them. CPA officals recognized this as a potentially explosive problem for discipline problems that would be detrimental to the entire school. They were prepared for LD but not ED. Nothing frustrates a student more (contributing to discipline problems) than being placed in a school situation that is unable to respond to their unique needs. It doesn't matter if it's a over achiever placed in a school with no challenges. The same is true for placing an overaged 7th grader whose reading difficulties have never been addressed being placed in a discipline school with no plan to address the reading difficulty. CCSD has to do a better job of matching the student needs with the schools and preparing the neighborhood schools to be more flexible to meet these needs. At least CPA was wise and generous enough to recognize that LD students are often very intelligent and academically gifted. CPA wanted to meet the needs correctly for this group of students who are too often simply described as "difficult" instead of seen as smart kids who happen to be "wired differently". But in order for this to work well for everyone, CCSD has to be ahead of the game with accurate assessments and flexible responses to each student's unique needs. As neighborhood schools begin to see the possibilities of meeting this challenge as an opportunity to genuinely enhance and enrich their educational mission, as CPA has done, school level leaders need to be aware of the potential breakdowns. It's a good idea that is overdue, but it needs to be implimented with all eyes and ears open.

downtown parent said...

Too bad Buist officially doesn't have room for students with special needs. Buist has turned away even very smart kids with physical difficulties, some have said, because they "probably wouldn't fit in." You'd think we had left this kind of narrow mindedness behind a half century ago. You'd also think that Buist would realize that a high percentage of Buist students would probably meet the definitions of LD or even ED. It's a sure bet they have a high number of "undiagnosed" and "hidden" disabilities among its students. Just look at how they misuse the test for admission to the kindergarten and the highly questionable messages that are being sent to these kids within the pressure cooker environment, particularly as they reach the middle school grades.

Anonymous said...

The new superintendent should look long and hard at why Buist is so "set apart". The excuse Buist apologists repeat like a broken record is that as a magnet school for "academic high achievers" it can exclude those that don't "meet minimum standards". I don't understand why those goals seem to allow Sallie Ballard and Janet Rose to effectively exclude students that are highly intelligent but who happen to have a diagnosed or obvious disability. Buist and CCSD officials consistantly screen these students out even though some of them manage to win the highly questionable Buist lottery. Some parents have suggested that the lottery is rigged so they can exclude those who "obviously" wouldn't fit in. What is it about the ADA (not to mention NCLB) that Buist officials don't understand?

Memminger1945 said...

Accurate student assessments to identify special needs are critical, especially for so called mild or low level disabilities that include some physical handicaps or many less obvious disabilities including some that been labeled as LD. These students often excel in one or more courses, but have inordinate difficulty others. For some these might be problems requiring language related skills. For others they have severe problems with traditional approaches to courses based on math concepts. Schools need to be able to use different approaches to reach students who have the same educational goals as their peers but who need to follow a different path to reach those educational goals (not just answering the PACT test questions correctly). This flexibility in teaching and the time it might require working with the individual student is sometimes beyond the reach of a "normal" teacher in a "regular" classroom. It is too easy for a school or school district to wrongly imply that a large number of these students need "special education" in a distant school or isolated classroom.

These students and their teachers need assistance not separation. But dumping these students without the school based support resources is not the answer either. Adequate school based resources and proper assessments are both extremely important. Many individual student discipline issues are directly related to inadequate resources and improper student assessments, if assessments were done at all.

If an assessment is wrong it could amount to death sentence for a child's future. It could also place an incalculable and unnecessary burden on the family and community. If a wrong assessment is made and likewise an inappropriate IEP (individual educational plan) is followed, the real and emotional costs to all concerned can be enormous. Not only will a wrong assessment be costly, but if it is eventually discovered years later, it is often too late to correct the damage. That is why local schools with the potential for building close contacts with a student's family network should be encouraged as they move to address this issue.

CCSD has been challenged to improve its record in addressing students with special needs. It has also made many incorrect assessments, some as recently as last year. CPA responded to correct some of the problems it saw, but Burke was left unprepared to handle the confusion that resulted when so many "special needs" students were dropped on them in 2005. Some Burke middle school students were seriously out of sync with CCSD's state goals for the school or were just lacking an appropriate IEP. It didn't help that the entire school was in flux without the essential support networks in place as were promised by CCSD officials.

CCSD is not alone in making bad assessments. MUSC has also made some mistakes. Even the best "special education" experts should be subjected to second opinions on a regular basis. Thankfully, there are people at CPA who appear to appreciate this and who are not afraid to act to correct mistaken assessments and occasionally an incorrect school assignment. This has often been to the great benefit of the individual student, and in turn a benefit to the peace and satisfaction of everyone else at the school, too.

Student needs and a school's ability to match them should be reinforced by CCSD, especially when a school like CPA is trying to do this already. CPA is trying to stay focused on the school's larger mission but it has found that they can still address some "special needs" students within this mission.

CCSD should respect their efforts by correctly assessing students and including the school in developing each IEP for the students they are prepared to handle which was originally supposed to be only about 5% or its total enrollment.

There is some belief that CCSD has in the past assigned more LD students than it promised, incorrectly assessed some of these students and has failed to give CPA adequate resources to meet the needs of the school to do this job as adequately, indeed, as well, as CPA has said it was willing and wanted to do.