The Special Education Reform and Its Unintended Consequences: Part 1

Like you, and perhaps like many other educators, administrators, and parents, I was excited when the New York City Department of Education adopted the Special Education Reform.  At that time, I was working with the specialized district in the city, namely District 75, and I was seeing the influx of students whom I felt could have been given a better chance in a regular school, perhaps with supports, perhaps with a self-contained setting.  I was appalled at the numbers of students who were referred to District 75 daily.  So, when the special education reform became policy, I could not wait to see its results.  What I could not anticipate was how quickly I would get to see its unintended consequences.

My brother Fernando, whose LRE was District 75

For starters, what is the special education reform?  To answer this question, I am going to be specific to New York City, even though similar versions of this have happened everywhere in the United States.  The New York City Department of Education decided the citywide rollout of this policy would start in the Fall of 2012, with a partial rollout as early as 2010.  It entailed following the provisions of the law at its core, regarding diligence when applying the LRE (least restrictive environment) to placement of children in special programs.  At its heart, the special education reform “is aimed at ensuring that all students with disabilities are educated to high academic standards, in the least restrictive setting that is academically appropriate, and at the same schools they would have access to if they did not have IEPs,” as then-Chancellor Walcott said in a letter.

My brother Fernando, whose LRE was District 75

As I mentioned, this all sounds good.  After all, we are following the letter of the law and applying its provisions.  Right?  That’s what I thought at the beginning.  I felt that too many students were being recommended services in a specialized school that could be managed in a regular school.  But what happened after the beginning of the rollout (between 2010 and 2012), was that many of the students who would have stayed at their regular schools in self-contained classes (see the continuum of services here), were now being recommended for District 75 schools. 

Why was this happening?  Many of the psychologists I talked to told me that since their schools were no longer supporting self-contained classes (whether in elementary, middle school, or high school), they felt that the children they were supporting would be better served in a smaller class, even if that meant transferring them to a specialized school.  This was the opposite of what the reform intended!  I was appalled, but I was even more appalled at the fact that there were close to zero self-contained classes available for these children that needed them.

My brother Fernando, whose LRE was District 75

Over time, and while I was still working with District 75, we noticed that the influx of students who had specialized school recommendations waned a bit, and for me, this meant that perhaps students were receiving more accurate recommendations at the school level.  Little did I know what was happening on the other side of the fence.  Students in public schools were being recommended classes in their regular public schools, but the services were far from being accurate for the children they were supposed to serve.

Do you want to learn more about the special education reform and its unintended consequences?

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow and check out our YouTube channel and free/private Facebook group.

See you tomorrow!

Dr. Ingrid Amorini-Klimek.

I’m so Afraid!

Your child’s education may seem like a puzzle, an enigma that is difficult to figure out. Sometimes it is overwhelming, and it is easier to freeze with fear than to push ahead. I want to tell you that it is ok to be afraid. It is also ok to not know what to do, to not have all the answers. We need to start somewhere, and sometimes where we start it is a place of fear. Making peace with fear and accepting that fear will be a factor that is present in our lives will make an impact and will help in moving forward.
How do we deal with fear? It is important to know, that even though “conquering fear” is a very popular concept, it is not a practical one. Fear is something to accept, live with, recognize, but never let it rule us. Fear is an emotion, just like any other. Fear should not overcome us. When we are overwhelmed by feelings of “what do I do next?” or “why would they listen to me?” it is important to say, “Fear, I know you, I understand you, but I have to put you aside for now.” This is how we move on. We continue to move forward in spite of our fear. We continue to push ahead. We continue to walk this journey, together with our fear.
So when fear strikes, and the IEP meeting is around the corner, we should still ask questions, even if we are shaking, even if we feel like our question is not worth asking. All questions are worth spending time on, and all fears are worth exploring. People that deal with these situations should be understanding. If they are not, the burden is not on you. It’s on them.
Take a deep breath, exhale, and feel the spark within yourself. You can do this. You are afraid, yes, but you can do this, for yourself, for your child, and for your family.
And as always, reach out to me with comments and questions. You are not alone.

What is an IEP?

If your child was diagnosed with a disability, especially if this happened within the context of school, chances are that school personnel has approached you and has spoken to you about an “IEP.” In the shock of finding out that your child has a developmental disability, you may not even have had the strength to ask what it is. There are so many things in your mind!
IEP stands for Individualized Educational Plan. It is “individualized” because it belongs to your child and to your child alone. Each specific plan includes details that aim to capture the needs of each child, the level of functioning of each particular child, and delineates what is needed from now on. It is “educational” because this plan pertains to education and not to other areas of life. However, education does lead to other areas, such as vocational or post-secondary goals, and those areas are also covered on the IEP. It is a “plan” because it contains goals, objectives, methods, strategies, and a way to measure whether those goals have been attained. It is supposed to be assessed and revised accordingly over time.
IEPs are also legal documents that show what the student needs and what the student is entitled to. They clearly identify how a student best learns and the recommended settings and accommodations needed. This is very important as the family needs to be aware not only that the IEP exists, but also that this is a document that they have direct input on, access to, and also guarantees the exercise of parental rights, should a child not receive the services delineated on the IEP.
We will continue to talk about the many ramifications of a newly written IEP. In the meantime, please drop me a note if you have any questions.

Love,
Dr. Klimek

Help! My child was just diagnosed with a disability!

Your child has just been diagnosed with a disability and you are upset, confused, and angry.  You still can’t believe it and you are already getting the “fight or flee” feeling in your stomach.  What do you do?

First, take a deep breath.  I know, this sounds beyond difficult, impossible, but it is necessary right now.  Take a step back, and take a deep breath.  You will have time to revise the words later.  You will have time to look at reports, and you will have time to consult on them.  For right now, you will need to breathe.

Second, take a look at your child.  Your child needs you and will be there after the first shock of the news go away.  Enjoy being with your child.  Enjoy this moment.  At the risk of sounding cliché I will tell you that moments are precious and will not come back.  Your child will give you moments that will try your patience but will also give you moments of extreme joy.  Be with your child, right now.

Last, do something for yourself.  You will need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your child.  You will need the energy to be there and to fight.  You will need the energy to withdraw whenever necessary.  You will need the fortitude to be your child’s voice and your child’s advocate.

Above all, keep in mind that no ride through life is never without bumps.  Some rides may be bumpier than others, but it is your very own bumpy ride anyway!