Following the Rhode Island Department of Education's agreement to conduct a review of Warwick's Special Education Department at the request of Mayor Scott Avedisian and Superintendent Philip Thornton, School Committee Member Karen Bachus
Following the Rhode Island Department of Education’s agreement to conduct a review of Warwick’s Special Education Department at the request of Mayor Scott Avedisian and Superintendent Philip Thornton, School Committee Member Karen Bachus pushed harder for a third party investigation at Tuesday’s School Committee meeting.
A letter from the Mayor and Superintendent to RIDE requested a targeted review of “Previous Special Education Programs (including Co-op formula, Weighting, and Stanines), vs. New Special Education Program design, Disproportionality-inappropriate identification of students with IEPs, and accusations of administrative directives that IEPs not be followed.”
Bachus moved that the committee “order an extensive investigation into special ed to determine if our students, our children, are getting what they need as special ed students who need services or if they’re being given less than they should.”
“I think we need to get to the bottom of this and it needs to be a serious investigation, not a piece of fluff done by RIDE,” Bachus said, adding that RIDE was “broken.” She recommended attorney Vincent Ragosta perform the investigation.
Bachus received vocal support from the audience, but her fellow School Committee members had reservations. Clerk Terri Medeiros said she didn’t see enough evidence to prove that RIDE could not sufficiently conduct a review.
“I can’t support this motion because I need facts in front of me saying that RIDE is in fact broken and that all they do is fluff,” Medeiros said. “It is not that I’m not supporting special ed...I am saying why I am not supporting that motion on the table.”
Bachus clarified that she meant what RIDE does “may” be fluff, but that it “absolutely is broken.”
Bachus’ motion was not seconded, and thus failed. However, she encouraged educators and parents to continue speaking out on the issue.
“If you’re…a witness to any of this, do not be afraid. You will not be fired. You are covered under the Whistleblower Act, and I will stand with you,” she said.
After the meeting, Thornton said RIDE was best fit to do the review.
“RIDE is the legal and regulatory overseer in Rhode Island state law of special education. They’re the ones to do this. I welcome any RIDE investigation because we’re doing best practice. Look at any other district. That’s what we’re doing,” Thornton said.
Mayor Avedisian reiterated on Wednesday that RIDE is the legal authority on special education.
“I don’t think RIDE is broken, but Karen Bachus is certainly entitled to her own opinion. We have asked for a top to bottom review of the department and hope it will happen by February 1st,” Avedisian said. “If people think this is not sufficient and want to fund a third party investigation, they can do that.”
A representative for RIDE could not be reached for comment.
In other business, the school committee approved contract awards for a Microsoft License Renewal, Walkie Talkies, and a website consultant, among others. Despite the fact it was said to provide a revamp for all district websites, the decision to award $50,000-$75,000 for the website consultant was met with opposition from Bachus and members of the public – during public comment, one person said graphic design students at the Career and Technical Center could do it for free.
Chair of the School Building Committee Anthony Ferrucci provided an update on committee activity, saying that building inspector Alfred DeCorte will replace Ed Ladouceur as the 9th member of the committee following Ladouceur’s resignation. He said the committee is moving forward in terms of deciding items for prioritization in the $90 million bond conversation, one of which is the Warwick Veterans heating system that has been the subject of conversation for months. The process had been delayed due to meeting RIDE requirements, and Ferrucci said the cost would be bumped from $3.5 million to an estimated $5 million. The $3.5 million was replacing boilers and predominantly using existing piping with “no real air handling circulation issues.” The new design will have ductwork where air will be circulated through the building, indicating a move from boiler to an HVAC air quality type system. It will be a significant increase in cost, but it is the “direction RIDE is looking for,” Ferrucci said.