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Letter to the Editor

Writer speaks out for Special Education needs

web posted September 16, 2010

Dear Editor,
I am writing to you because of the direction our school district, in general, and our special education program, in particular, is headed.  I retired from the position of Special Education Director for Edgefield County in 2007.  During my 36 years in education my foremost concern was for the students and the quality of programs and services provided to them.  I continue to have those concerns, especially for students with special needs.

It is my understanding that Donna Strom, the Special Education Director from 2007 to 2010, resigned this past June.  This is a huge loss to the special education children in our county.  Ms. Strom was an excellent special education director in spite of the insurmountable load of other, non special education, duties that were placed in her lap.  Under her leadership the children were well served and the school district avoided expensive legal battles. Rather than hiring a new director, the district divided up the director’s duties among the assistant superintendent for instruction, a school psychologist who was named as part-time special education coordinator, school administrators and teachers.  None of these individuals can be as well trained as Mrs. Strom or as dedicated to assuring that your child receives the educational services he/she is entitled to by federal law.  The worst thing about this arrangement is that special education students will lose critical instructional time because their teachers have these new duties. 

I also understand that the new assistant superintendent for instruction touts experience in special education administration and will have responsibilities for special education budgeting, etc.   It is my fear that this person will be paid partially or totally with special education dollars but will, in reality, do very little for the special education program.  She is not likely to attend IEP meetings for your child.  Is this our district’s way of commandeering special education funds to fill other budgetary needs?  Will special education dollars be siphoned off in other ways as well?

I would like to encourage all parents of special education children to be vigilant when it comes to the educational services your child is receiving.  Some of my recommendations to you are as follows:
1.    Be informed about the federal laws that govern special education (IDEIA and 504).
2.    Know your child’s rights as well as your own (this is written information you should have received from the school district).
3.    Request parent training from the district if needed.
4.    Request copies of all records concerning your child. 
5.    Meet with the psychologist, speech clinician, physical or occupational therapist, or other specialists to gain a good understanding of the results of any evaluations that your child received.
6.    Request a private evaluation at the school district’s expense if warranted.
7.    Be present at all meetings concerning your child. 
8.    Make sure all of the required participants are present for the meeting including an administrator who will be responsible for assuring that your child will receive the services agreed upon by the team.  Check to see if everyone whose signature appears on the IEP was actually present for the meeting you attended. 
9.    Carefully check the copy of the IEP you receive to be sure there is nothing there you did not discuss at the meeting. 
10.    Do not be afraid to ask questions, if you do not understand, ask.  When it comes to your child’s education there is no such thing as a stupid question.
11.    Seek out advocates who can accompany you to meetings and help you get answers.  They are available.
12.    Be aware of how the district is spending special education money, including who is being paid with those funds.  They are required by law to share that information with you if you ask.
13.    Make sure your child is receiving all of the services specified by his/her IEP, including the full amount of time in general education as well as the correct number of minutes in direct contact with the special education teacher and related services provider(s).
14.    Be visible. Visit the school frequently and see what services are provided to your child and who is providing them.
15.    Make sure the people working with your child are appropriately trained/certified.
16.    If your child is suspended or expelled from school, ask about his/her right to homebased special education and related services.
17.    Get to know other parents of special needs children.  There is strength in numbers.
18.    If you cannot get answers from the district do not be afraid to look to the State for help. 
19.    Exercise your due process rights including formal complaints to the State Office of Programs for Exceptional Children, mediation and, if necessary, Due Process Hearings.

As you can see there are many issues surrounding the district’s responsibility to provide special education and related services to all special education students within its jurisdiction.  Without a knowledgeable and dedicated professional whose primary responsibility is to the special education program, the district is likely to fall far short of the mark in providing the quality of services that our special needs students have benefited from in the past.  This could result in problems for the children and their parents as well as the district.  Of course, the bill will be passed on to us, the taxpayers.

Iris H. Spires
Trenton, SC

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