Tag Archives: special ed

Panel preps parents for changes to special ed

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Perturbed parents, unsure about the newly instated special education reform, finally got some answers.

Parents and education experts gathered at the offices of the Community District Education Council 30 (CDEC30) in Long Island City on Wednesday, August 29 to discuss the special education reform that kicked off at the start of this school year.

According to a representative from the Department of Education (DOE), as of September 1, kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades will begin integrating special education students into classrooms with general education students. The program is expected to occur in phases over the next several years, combining children with varying degrees of disabilities.

Michelle Noris, a CDEC30 member who has a child with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), said her group exists to act as a liaison between parents and the DOE, disseminating information to the public and alerting the city agency about major, underlying issues.

According to Noris, the biggest concerns of parents include reduced services due to dwindling funds, and issues with students’ Related Services Agreement (RSA), which could potentially prohibit parents from choosing their child’s therapist.

The meeting was called to allow advocates and parents to speak freely without being suppressed by members of the Department of Education (DOE), who were not in attendance, according to a member of the CDEC30. A diverse panel of speakers, including officials such as occupational therapists and lawyers, fielded questions from parents, concerned that their children may not be getting the services they require.

“[Educational guidelines] change very quickly,” said panelist Jean Mizutani, education program director for Resources for Children with Special Needs. “There is no sufficient outreach done by the DOE. Parents hear about changes in the course of their daily activities. It’s very helpful to have a panel and answer questions. It just grounds the parents.”

Mizutani said rapidly changing systems in education can confuse parents, who were better versed in previously existing methods. While she says all parents of school-aged children are concerned with their child’s education, parents of those with special needs require additional information and advice.

The DOE argues that increased interaction between students with disabilities and those in general education raises scores on standardized tests, diminishes truancy and disruptive behavior, and betters their chances for employment and independent living after high school. According to the DOE, these improvements occurred in all students with disabilities, regardless of the severity or type of handicap, gender or socioeconomic standing. The agency cited studies, stating that self-contained classrooms provide an absence of positive behavior models and have a negative impact on classroom environment.

A Universal Design for Learning (UDL) will be implemented at all schools throughout the city, according to the DOE, providing equal opportunities for students to learn, with or without disabilities.

“People have been accustomed to children being segregated for so long, that’s what they perceive as a positive,” said panelist Ellen McHugh, associate director of Parent to Parent New York State. “When you have a pass/fail percentage on Regents that’s less than two percent and a graduation rate of less than 30 percent, that’s a problem.”

So you want to have ‘inclusion’

| brennison@queenscourier.com


Since I can remember, the state’s Department of Education has always talked about “LRE,” or Least Restrictive Environment. The days of special education students being secluded into one building are just about gone. With more and more opportunities for each child to reach his fullest potential, doesn’t it make sense that we should offer these students every possible support, service, and yes, classrooms to make this a reality?

However, inclusion must be done correctly. What I mean is that in order for an inclusion program to work, we must look at all the students in the classroom, not just the special ones. Special education students come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and even the severity of their disability. We cannot treat a child in a wheelchair the same as a child with an Autism diagnosis.

The first thing we have to do correctly is evaluate. Every child that needs a specialized service must get that service to succeed. Every child who needs some extra help while taking a test must be given more time. Conversely, every typical child in that same classroom will need a little more attention. This must be accounted for as well. To make inclusion work, every student in the class must feel that they are “a part” of the classroom. This can be a very challenging thing to make happen.

Over the years, I have seen a wide variety of different inclusion models. Some failed miserably, but some had some wonderful outcomes. Take Antonio for example. Inclusion in one school failed miserably and simply moving him into another school building with experience in the “inclusion” program yielded unbelievable success.

I think that the most beneficial thing about inclusion can be a “peer” modeling program. This is when a typical child is “buddied up” with a student with special needs. In one school district, we introduced this model and saw marvelous results. We paired 6th graders with 3rd graders; 9th graders with 5th graders; and high school students with middle school students. At first we had a lot of resistance from the parents, but once we met with them, explained the program and the benefits to each child, the parents were so supportive that within a year we had a waiting list for peer mentors.

All in all, the inclusion model of education should be every special child’s right. Based on a thorough evaluation and appropriate placement and services, every child can succeed. In this day and age and what we know on how children with developmental disabilities can learn, as long as we do it right, include all parties in the planning process, develop good Individualized Education Plans and provide well-trained teachers to guide our children, inclusion is a very good model to use in educating children with disabilities.

One parent told me that her child was not welcomed in her local school. He was sent over 10 miles away to a school that was appropriate. How does he make friends? What birthday parties will he be invited to? How about just an opportunity for a play date? Not likely. But what if he got that same program in his local school?

Andrew Baumann, Ma, CASAC, FAPA, is president and CEO N.Y. Families for Autistic Children Andrew@nyfac.org