The special education reform rolled out in all schools this fall is very much "a work in progress," according to two prominent experts: Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children (AFC) and Maggie Moroff, of AFC and the the ARISE Coalition.
The reform's goal of educating disabled children in their neighborhood schools is laudable, write the two in an article for City Limits, but now the emphasis must shift to accountability and ensuring that children's needs are actually being met in the schools that enrolled them.
Sweet and Moroff call upon the Education Department to do three things. First, provide intensive, ongoing, elbow to elbow support and training to school staff working with special needs children. Second, come up with an immediate plan to better inform parents about the reform and give families guidance on what to do if their school lacks "the expertise or capacity to meet their children's needs." Third, publicly report the successes and failures of the reform's first phase - two years in 260 pilot schools. What were the best practices? What was the impact of the reform at those schools?
Read the article "On Special Ed, School Dept. Must do its Homework" in City Limits.
There are more students with special needs than ever attending Brooklyn's highly sought-after Christa McAuliffe middle school, but poor outreach has left one-third of the available seats unfilled.
The empty seats will not be filled this year, Education Department officials said.
The school let several general education teachers go in preparation for the creation of two Integrated Co-Teaching classes, in which general and special education students learn side by side with two teachers, one of whom is licensed to teach special education students. There were only enough special ed students to create one of the ICT classes. Nonetheless, the school is not offering Spanish to 6th graders this year and some art classes have been cut, parents said.
The problem was not a lack of interest among families of children with disabilities. Students applying to Christa McAuliffe, also known as IS 187, must take the OLSAT exam, which was administered in December. But parents were not informed of the special needs enrollment option until January. As a result, the school had fewer applications from special education students than the 25-30 seats that the DOE targeted. It got 4,000 applications for just 300 general education seats in 2010.
The beginning of a new school year can be exciting -- and confusing. Some very helpful information is now available for families of students with disabilities. A new fact sheet from Advocates for Children is online in both English and Spanish.
It covers a range of issues that often crop up at the beginning of school, including:
For many children with special needs, the start of school will be a smooth process, but if it's not, you can get in touch with Advocates for Children for advice and assistance. Their help line at (866) 427-6033 is staffed Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
For some families, back to school means new clothes and school supply shopping. But if your child has asthma, food allergies or any condition that requires medication in school, you’ll have to add something else to the list: medical forms. You may need the Medication Administration Form (MAF), Asthma Action Plan, or a Section 504 form to ensure your child has a safe school experience
The MAF allows students to receive the medications they need at school. The Asthma Action Plan is developed with your doctor to help control your child’s asthma. But too few families have these forms. According to the New York City Department of Health, in 2009, only 65% of children who should have a form on file actually did. Food allergies can be fatal, as in the case of a Canadian school girl who died at school because her condition was not properly recognized by school officials.
But according to the Department of Education, my son is a failure. Because unless he has graduated to a less restrictive environment (LRE)—from special education to integrated, or even more desirable, all the way to mainstream—he does not earn their seal of approval. In fact, by their accounting, he is a collosal failure since he went the opposite direction: to a more restrictive environment.
For Brooks, his new setting offers him the opportunity to learn, and it seems to me that this would be everyone's first and foremost concern. But it seems more important to the DOE that he require less and less support over the years. Now, if he was one of the small percentage of autistic kids who outgrow their challenges and get declassified, their formula would work because he wouldn't require services. It's only when you factor in the reality of his disability—a disability that in his case, interventions cannot inherently change—that this success measurement becomes at best, inaccurate, and at worst, a major disservice to the most special education students.
Brooks loves baseball. The first and last thing he does every day is check the Mets score, and he could rival any grown-up rabid sports fan in terms of logging hours and hours of watching innings and innings (for better or worse).
Unfortunately, he has a lot of genetics to overcome to actually play the game. Aside from the obvious autism-related ones, he's small and Jewish (to quote Bill Finn: "We're watching Jewish boys/Who cannot play baseball/Play baseball.") Still, every Sunday morning this spring, he suits up as number 11 on his Blue Sky Hawks Little League team.
Since my husband and I simply couldn't picture him playing with his 9-12 year old peers in kid pitch, we decided to offset some of his challenges by holding him back for an extra year in coach pitch. That decision, along with the overall non-competitive style of the Hudson Cliff League, has afforded him the opportunity to succeed. Of course, baseball is no different from any other endeavor: although hard work, natural talent, and love of the game all play a major role, there's no escaping late throws, bad bounces, and teammates who have more natural talent.
I'll be one of the speakers at a workshop at New York University, Tuesday, June 5, from 12 to 1:30 p.m. to help parents figure out their elementary school options. The event at the Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, Room, 803, is designed for NYU staff, but others may come as well. Maggie Moroff from Advocates for Children will talk about special education and Terri Decker of Smart City Kids will talk about gifted programs.
The workshop is free, but you must register: http://www.nyu.edu/rsvp/event.php?e_id=4192. Call 212-998-9085 for more information
We'll give you information about how to register your child, how to apply to schools outside your zone, and what you should look for on school visits. There will be time for questions and answers as well.
I'm happy to report that what loomed large for my son at school a few weeks ago had nothing to do with the mandatory standardized 3rd grade ELA and math tests, and everything to do with LearningSpring's annual talent show.
To our relief, the tests were given the appropriately small amount of attention they deserve. They don't drive the school curriculum, and their results will be refreshingly meaningless. We already know that my son is academically well-below grade level. He will get practice taking tests—not a bad thing—and no teacher will be fired because he didn't score high enough. But I understand that our school's common sense attitude is atypical in NYC public schools, and I support and admire Anne Stone and Jeff Nichols for taking a stance against these tests that take so much away from and contribute so little to our kids' education.
What Brooks got out of the talent show cannot be measured by a test. He shared his love of music with the whole student body, and he experienced the teamwork of the school coming together to create a performance for their friends and families. Although the teachers and therapists were guiding them, we knew from the way Brooks had talked about rehearsals that this was their show. And from the moment the two upper grade masters of ceremonies warmly welcomed the parents, my husband and I became enchanted.
Some highly sought after high schools won't have to enroll more special education students this fall, even as others work to boost their numbers and meet city-mandated targets.
Bard, Baruch and Eleanor Roosevelt, all in Manhattan, are among 27 high schools that are exempt from enrolling a mandated number of special needs students in their 9th grade classes this fall. City officials said the schools will be asked to meet targets in the fall of 2013.
The schools given exemptions fall into three categories: the city's 14 International schools that serve new immigrants; seven schools that require auditions; and six hyper-competitive academically screened schools. (An additional nine specialized high schools, governed by state law, are also exempt.)
District 20 leaders are bracing for a flood of parents at Wednesday's Community Education Council meeting who want the city to exempt IS 187 Christa McAuliffe from next year's special education requirements, which will force the school to admit more kids with special needs.
Other parents say allowing more special ed kids into the school isn't the problem. These parents want the city to re-open the application process to special needs students at the all-gifted Brooklyn middle school, since so few knew it was an option.
Many parents of special education students – including those with kids at IS 187 - say they had no idea that their beloved school was a possibility. While a small number of special education students do attend the school, it has not enrolled students who require special classes and more intensive services.