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Special ed reform roll-out pushed back a year

The special education reforms which are being piloted in 265 schools this year will be rolled out to all city schools a year later than was originally planned. In a memo to principals, Chancellor Cathie Black said delaying a full-scale launch of the reform until 2012-13 would allow time "to develop best practices based on the experiences of Phase One schools." In addition, she noted that school personnel are still being trained in the use of a new data tracking system, Special Education Student Information System (SESIS) and in a new electronic IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) which outlines the services each student should be getting.

The reorganization, designed to allow schools more flexibility in educating  special education students and to integrate them into all schools in  greater numbers, was begun with little fanfare or publicity last fall, and, some advocates say there was not enough planning. There has been little news on how it is working and parents, advocates, and school administrators are not surprised by the delay.

""They're not ready to roll it out, said Maggie Moroff, head of the ARISE Coalition, a special ed advocacy group.  "They are still in such a basic phase that I don't think they have time to take the lessons learned this year to turn around and implement them in all schools."

Jaclyn Okin Barney, co-counsel with Parents for Inclusive Education, an advocacy group that has been meeting with the Department of Education about the reorganization, says the delay is a good thing.  "The more time the agency takes to ensure teachers and administrators are given accurate training, knowledge and expertise the higher the likelihood of success of schools and students," she said.

For principals piloting the program, a key question  is how it will be funded. Schools receive funding based on the services mandated by a student's IEP, and get the most dollars for students in self-contained or in Collaborative Team-Teaching (CTT) classes.  Because the reform is aimed at moving special education students to general education classes, principals are unclear how this will affect funding.

"The new funding model  should encourage schools to put kids to put kids in least  restrictive environments," said Alisa Berger, principal of NYCiSchool in Manhattan, one of the pilot schools. "You’re supposed to use the model that works best for kids. How do you fund that? There has been no clarity on how to fund. "

In the past, Berger said, many principals would maximize the number of kids in CTT classes but the DOE is trying to encourage alternatives.

"We do change kids’ services to meet their needs. Kids change their courses every nine weeks [at NYCiSchool]," Berger said.  "And if we’re changing [a student's IEP] six times a year to meet his needs, it's going to be a very complex funding formula and it’s not surprising that they haven’t been able to say 'this is what that is'."

For Berger, the decision to delay the rollout of such an ambitious program is a good one.

"I think the vision is amazing and transformative and I really support it but it’s really really not simple," she  said.

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