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.”