One of our biggest concerns with our school is the Special Education Department. For those who do not have a child receiving services, you may not have any idea as to what parents of children with IEP’s and/or 504’s must incur in an attempt to ensure their child receives the education they are entitled to. We must stress that few parents every truly enjoy their experiences with ANY Special Education department as it is a stressful situation for most parents. Also, for parents who are concerned about their child’s progress and/or the schools ability to meet their educational needs, the task becomes even more daunting. Public schools must not only manage meeting the educational needs of each child, they must simultaneously stay within their financial constraints. To clarify, if a public school makes the determination to send a child to a school outside of the district (i.e. outplace them), is incredibly expensive and comes out of their already tight budget. That being said, I believe that the law governing charter schools is different in that they would refer the child (and cost) back to the sending district, who would then be responsible for outplacing the child. Amazingly enough, many of the sending districts of MVRCS are doing incredible things within Special Education.
For parents with children receiving services at MVRCS we have compiled some suggestions and concerns that you should be aware of.
- First and foremost, if possible hire an Attorney or Advocate who specializes in Special Education (check out http://wrightslaw.com/ for assistance or guidance regarding most issues related to Special Education Laws and best practices). We have heard (but not confirmed) that the DESE is able to provide parents with an advocate. As a last resort we highly recommend you tape record the meeting and discussion. We believe this is allowable by law if you have the permission of all those in attendance and would question the motives of those unwilling to do so. At the very least by recording the meeting, you avoid any misunderstandings or denials of statements.
- We have heard of parents being told things such as ‘this is how we do things here’, ‘you knew that when you signed up with us’, ‘you are free to leave’, and (our favorite) ‘we don’t identify specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia within IEP’s but use the term learning disability…’. These statements are at he very least questionable but most likely, illegal under ‘No Child Left Behind’ and Special Education laws. A childs IEP should contain as much specific information as possible in order to allow all teaching staff to meet the childs needs. It is also required by law that ALL teaching staff (and assistants, specialists, etc.) be given a copy of your childs IEP. We have heard of instances of parents meeting with specialists who were unaware that their child had an IEP or if aware, had not received a copy of it.
- IEP’s should contain information that is very specific as to the learning needs of the student, where the student is (specific levels and abilities), where they student should be at the next review, and how they will get there. Simply stating that a child will ‘read a passage’, or ‘with the assistance of staff’ is not sufficient as it is not explicit nor measurable. We have heard of students with IEP’s leaving MVRCS and being considerably behind their peers (one child was 3-4 school years behind). While occassionally this is unavoidable, it is concerning that considering the very low number of Special Education students MVRCS is responsible for accomodating (as compared to sending districts), very few of these students perform to satisfaction on MCAS tests. Because a child has an IEP does not make it possible for them to succeed within the classroom if given the right tools, instruction, and methodology.
- Be sure all accomodations are being implemented, ESPECIALLY during testing (specifically MCAS and IOWA’s). We have heard of students requiring additional time for tests remaining in the classroom after the other students have finished. It is difficult for any child to remain focused and do their best with distractions, never mind a child who is struggling, may be fatiqued, or has difficutly remaining focused.
- We question the training, guidance, and collaboration between the Special Education department staff and the classroom teachers and specialists. We have heard of Professional Development training where the staff is given a stack of all past training materials on a given subject and they read it aloud. It has also been suggested that although the school provided training on issues related to child abuse, neglect, and threats of danger, the school is rarely willing to follow the state mandates that govern their actions. This is concerning to us as we have heard of children threatening to bring guns into school, harm themselves or others, and issues relating to sexual abuse. Laws govern how each of these issues are to be handled to ensure the safety of all students. Our concern is that while we question the credentials and experiences of the Administration of MVRCS (with the exception of Dr. McCleary who is both highly qualified and educated yet given little to no say in the handling of these situations), we must ask is their failure as a result of their ignorance of the law or for other, more self-serving motives? As a number of staff members spoke power point presentations of the laws, it does not seem as though the school permits their staff to follow the laws.
The Special Education department at MVRCS is headed by Kathy Kinnon (who is related to Neil Kinnon the current Chairman of the Board of Trustees which is an issue within itself) and as a result of parents experiences, we find ourselves questioning her credentials, experience, dedication, and motives . Further, the other concern that we have is that should a parent have an issue with the services (or lack of services) being offered, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires the parent to first bring the issue to the Board of Trustees. The objectivity and willingness of the Board to address parent’s issues is a major concern. Further, we question the credentials and experience of not only Kathy Kinnon (who, to the best of our knowledge, has not been employed in a public school or under the leadership of highly qualified and experienced leaders), but also of the Board in determining the educational needs of children of diverse learning needs. We must also mention the numerous comments we have received from parents regarding their unwillingness, uneasiness, and fear of challenging the Board. We’ve heard stories of parents being berated, dismissed, and ridiculed by various Board members. For these parents the next step in the process involves filing a complaint with the DESE to which they must sign their name to. The process continues, going from the DESE to the school and back to the DESE with the final step being to request a hearing with the DESE. As if dealing with MVRCS wasn’t challenging enough, per Boston Globe Correspondent Sarah Thomas reported (see Boston Globe Article Focusing on Special Education - provides insight into Special Education laws and process):
“According to the Bureau of Special Education Appeals, there were 609 hearing requests from parents who disputed the programs developed for their children in 2009.
Forty-eight of those requests led to completed hearings, and the parents prevailed in six cases.
This ultimately results in all parents having very few choices or avenues of recourse but for the parents of MVRCS, this is further exasperated by MVRCS choosing to ignore the Conflict of Issues Laws. MVRCS must be required to employ highly qualified and experienced individuals who know Special Education and the laws.