Warwick’s secondary special education program has “no widespread illegal practices” in place, according to a review of secondary level special education conducted by the Rhode Island Department …
Warwick’s secondary special education program has “no widespread illegal practices” in place, according to a review of secondary level special education conducted by the Rhode Island Department of Education.
“We always have things to work on, but I’m encouraged that RIDE came out and looked at our whole special ed system and didn’t find anything alarming or any bad practice,” said Superintendent Philip Thornton on Friday. Thornton, along with Mayor Scott Avedisian, requested a 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” this winter following complaints and accusations of IEPs being violated.
Special Services Director Jennifer Connolly, who met with the Beacon Friday to discuss key points of the review, said the review was started in January and was recently completed. The review included RIDE staff interviewing school staff, site visits, speaking to parents, speaking to community members who had concerns, and completing a survey.
“We made it very clear with this visit that anybody who had a concern or complaint or question about secondary special education was welcome to go talk to RIDE staff,” Connolly said.
The most vocal complaint that was heard prior to the review was that student IEPs were being violated – the review found some student specific compliance issues (i.e. “some boxes weren’t checked off and some dates weren’t filled out”) that required corrective actions, but these were not widespread.
“There are no widespread illegal practices happening – there’s no finding to that effect in this report,” Connolly said.
The review also found that Warwick is “disproportionate” and over-identifies students in total, which according to Connolly, means there are too many students in certain disability categories who have IEPs (she said there are 1,428 students total on IEPs).
So how does someone get misidentified for an IEP? It’s hard to say, Connolly explained.
“Every decision made in special education is an individualized decision, so it’s a team of professionals at the school level that are reviewing the data that they’re presented with,” she said. “They’re charged with following the regulations in making these decisions. So I couldn’t say how every decision gets made because it’s always done at the school level by a team.”
One finding Connolly said had been echoed a few times in RIDE’s report was the need to “ensure that we have a multi-tired system of support at the school levels with school based accountability.” She describes this as a state regulation that requires that for any student that’s struggling, there is a team of people able to support that student, to provide interventions to progress monitor, and when necessary, perhaps refer the student to special education.
“At the building level these structures were not in place as well as they should have been,” Connolly said.
In terms of how a third party “investigation” that was voted on by the City Council and supported by certain members of the School Committee and community, Connolly is not sure how such a thing could have worked.
“What exactly the City Council was ordering in terms of an investigation, I don’t know… It’s my responsibility to ensure that student information is confidential, so I’m not certain how a third party investigation could happen or would happen without violating student confidentiality,” she said.
This particular review was an “interim” version of those periodically conducted by RIDE, Connolly explained, so the district’s corrective action plan will be monitored by RIDE. Another routine review is scheduled for next spring. The last routine review was conducted in 2013, and Connolly notes there were very significant improvements in this review compared to the 2013 review. She reiterated that parents with complaints or concerns can always call RIDE to be connected with resources and support.
As of Monday, Councilman Ed Ladouceur and School Committee Member Karen Bachus, who have been vocal about special education in recent months, said they had not yet seen the review. The review is expected to be up for further discussion at the next School Committee meeting on June 6 and can be viewed online at www.ride.ri.gov/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Information-and-Accountability-User-Friendly-Data/Accountability/reports/Warwick_Public_Schools.pdf.