Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks about Turnaround, special ed reform at forum


| aaltman@queenscourier.com |

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman
THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott was at M.S. 137 in Ozone Park to field questions from parents about everything from Turnaround to special education reform.

Concerned parents spoke out about special education reform, set to sweep the city this fall, at a recent Community Education Council 27 forum featuring Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

While the hot topic dominated most of the evening’s conversation at M.S. 137 in Ozone Park, parents, teachers and administrators inquired about a gamut of issues, from students’ health to Turnaround.

One attendee asked why children only have physical education for 40 minutes once a week when childhood obesity is a major problem in the United States. Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm mentioned the “Move to Improve” program, an in-class activity teachers can implement with their students right in the classroom, getting them out of their chairs and in motion, without using any equipment. Grimm also discussed the opportunity for schools to develop a “wellness committee” — an in-school organization dedicated to implementing tools for a healthy lifestyle.

Citywide changes to special education programs dominated the evening’s discussion, however. In September, students with Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) – those struggling with a broad spectrum of issues from reading disorders to physical disabilities – will be integrated into classes with general education students.

Parents present during the meeting expressed feelings of discomfort towards this initiative, fearing it could remove seats in already-crowded classes for general education children. One attendee stormed out of the meeting, repeatedly shouting “You’re lying!”

According to DOE officials, several school districts have few to no students with disabilities in attendance, adding that the new program is about “equality and access.” It was noted that students with special needs will not be “force placed” into classes.

“[The DOE] doesn’t want to see schools with zero percent special education population,” officials said.

Walcott believes it is an initiative that will help all children “flourish.”

It was also announced that no new gifted and talented programs will begin this year, due to lack of demand.

Turnaround remained another touchy subject at the May 15 meeting. Schools selected will receive complete overhauls with “new names, new designs and new emphasis,” according to Walcott.

“Schools need to be changed,” said Walcott. “We need to have the guts to do that.”