Many people do not yet know that there is a major reform coming to special education in New York City. Before leaving the city last June, Garth Harries, former Department of Education executive, wrote a memo that outlined a new, bold vision for improving the way our city addresses the needs of students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).
There are many aspects to the plan, and many questions remain about how it will be implemented, but overall it has two major implications for special education in our city's schools:
1) special education students should be integrated into all schools in significantly greater numbers, not only schools with specific programs (such as self-contained classes, Collaborative Team Teaching, or other support services known as SETTS); and
2) schools should have the flexibility to program students based on their actual IEP-indicated needs, rather than based on a strict set of classroom ratios and program recommendations.
This is an exciting vision that will mean, over the long term, that there is more full inclusion for students with IEPs, and which will mean that all schools will be better able to serve some of the most historically underserved students.
Arts & Letters is part of phase one, a group of about 250 schools which are implementing these changes beginning this fall. All schools will be adopt these changes in the 2011-2012 school year. Under this new plan, with significant support from the Department of Education, schools can plan schedules and programs that are tailored to individual needs, rather than strict program mandates, while still meeting the needs on the IEP.
At Arts & Letters, our faculty is having conversations about how to better meet individual students' needs through more flexible scheduling and teacher programming, and by looking at student learning styles and needs. It is exciting to have this opportunity and we believe we will be more successful with our special education students this way.
However, just as we approach this with optimism, our faculty members have many important questions about funding, enrollment procedures, protocols for coming to common understanding of program recommendations with parents, supporting teachers' work with the hardest-to-serve students in an inclusive environment, space allocations to support flexible groupings, and accountability for school based support team professionals. Even with Rodriguez's office working full-time to provide more details, the plan remains vague about implementation of these big ideas. And, as those of us who work in schools, and have children in schools, know: the "devil is in the details."
We are looking forward to being part of phase one of the implementation, because we hope that our leadership team, teachers, and parents will have an important role to play in the formation of these policies, and we hope that we can help to build the critical supports throughout the system that will be necessary to make these important, but immense, changes happen with the best interests of children in mind.
As this plan rolls out, I'd like to hear from parents about how you think this may affect your children and their schools. What are some of your hopes, questions and concerns?