Making a difference in the future of all students
As many residents have observed, there have been significant changes designed to improve our special education programs at the junior high and high school levels. These changes were made due to school consolidation but more importantly in response to the School Support Visit conducted by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) in 2013.
RIDE’s independent review found that many of our secondary special education programs did not provide our special education students with access to the general education curriculum or highly qualified teachers. Recent PARCC test results confirmed the Rhode Island Department of Education’s concern, with virtually all of our special education students not achieving proficiency in college and career ready standards, and up to half significantly below standard.
Warwick cannot, and will not, have special education programs that relegate children with disabilities to low expectations. Eventually, all of our students will go out into the real world, and we must start preparing them for that world right now. Consequently, the Warwick Public Schools has shifted the special education service delivery model in order to address these issues.
Some have been quick to criticize these improvements. Others have gone to the Rhode Island Department of Education demanding an investigation into our changes. For those unfamiliar with the process, RIDE regularly responds to any and all complaints from parents and then works with school districts to resolve these issues.
Last year, there were nine due process hearing requests to RIDE and seven have been successfully resolved. To put this in perspective, the Warwick Public Schools currently services 1,606 students with IEPs. RIDE has three parent complaints regarding Warwick in the current 2016 school year.
Some members of the community allege that there are dozens or even hundreds of complaints about the special education services in the Warwick Public Schools. To date, we have not seen any data to validate these claims. The Special Services Department has not experienced an increased level of complaints from parents. As in any year, my office is ready, willing, and able to respond to parental concerns when contacted.
If a parent does have a concern about their child's IEP, they are encouraged to call the Special Services office at 734-3059. If a teacher has a concern that a specific IEP is not being met, they should provide necessary details to the Special Services Office for follow-up.
We have process in place to provide timely behavior supports to any student experiencing behavioral challenges. The Behavior Intervention Team consists of three behavior specialists, three teacher assistants, a school psychologist and a consulting clinical psychologist. This team of individuals provides supports to students and teachers in the schools throughout the district, and meets weekly to review and adjust these supports.
We have a process in place to provide guidance to principals and school staff in order to support students experiencing mental health and behavioral crisis that was developed last year by a team of school professionals.
If a parent of a student with a disability has a concern or question about special education services for their child, they are encouraged to follow the many options that are available to parents. These options are outlined in the procedural safeguards notice that are provided to parents of students with disabilities annually, which can also be provided upon request. These options include contacting your special education teacher to request an IEP meeting or talking with a special education administrator at the Special Education Administration office at 734-3059.
In addition, RIDE has a Special Populations Call Center that parents can utilize to speak to a representative at RIDE for guidance. The number for this center is 222-8999. Parents may seek further support from parent support groups, including the Rhode Island Parent Information Network, or RIPIN, 727-4144, www.ripin.org and the Parent Support Network, or PSN, 467-6855, www.psnri.org. Parents also always have the options of requesting mediation, filing for a due process hearing or filing a special education complaint with the Rhode Island Department of Education.
In closing, all members of the community are encouraged to participate in the Warwick Special Education Advisory Committee, which meets on the last Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. in Warwick Public Schools Administration building, 34 Warwick Lake Avenue. Parents may contact Chairperson Jessica Schad at 474-3744.
I hope that we can all work together to improve our special education programs to the benefit of our students. Jennifer Connolly, PhD, is the Director of Special Services for Warwick Public Schools.