Cranston SEAC moves forward to raise awareness

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Cranston SEAC (Special Education Advisory Committee) held their monthly meeting on Feb. 7 at the Horton Building.

SEAC was established in order to help facilitate the provision of special education and related services to meet the unique needs of special education students.

There are specific state requirements that every school district must adhere to when a SEAC is involved. The SEAC itself is appointed by the school committee. The school committee approves the bylaws of the advisory committee.

Parents of students with disabilities compose a majority of the committee membership, with at least 50 percent of this majority being selected by the parents of students with disabilities.

Membership must include an individual with a disability, a public school administrator, a special education teacher, a general education teacher and other members of the community at the discretion of the committee and school board.

When a child is referred to special education, each school district is required to provide the parents with information of the existence of the Local Advisory Committee for Special Education.

Chairperson for the Cranston SEAC is Dannelle Littleton, whose son has an IEP. The IEP, or the Individualized Education Program, is a document that is developed for each public school child who needs special education. The IEP is created through a team effort and is reviewed periodically. The IEP is intended to help children reach educational goals more easily than they otherwise would.

A 504 plan is for K-12 public school students with disabilities. Section 504 defines “disability” in very broad terms. That’s why children who aren’t eligible for an IEP may qualify for a 504 plan. Section 504 defines a person with a disability as someone who; has a physical or mental impairment that “substantially” limits one or more major life activity (such as reading or concentrating). If they have a record of the impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment, or a significant difficulty that isn’t temporary. For example, a broken leg isn’t an impairment, but a chronic condition, like a food allergy, might be.

Littleton announced that she had launched the Facebook page for SEAC.

“I am hoping people will use it as a source for information and help to raise awareness. I plan to post and share articles that are relevant to IEP’s and 504’s. I want to be able to share with school pages and PTO’s,” she said. “The only way we as an advocacy group know what the needs of the students are, is for parents to come to meetings and telling them what SEAC offers. There is a disconnect between teachers, parents and SEAC,” she said.

At this meeting, Julie Driscoll, director of early childhood, and David Schiappa, vice principal of special education at Cranston High School West, were the representatives from district administrators.

Cranston is due for its next School Support visit in the spring of 2018.

“This is when SPED federal government comes down and says these are the regulations that all states must abide by. This is covered by IDEA [The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act].”

States are required to monitor the adherence and progress of these regulations.

The Rhode Island Department of Education came up with 17 indicators that monitor the SPED program in each district. Every five years, RIDE comes to each district and performs a school support visit.

“SEAC uses the School Support system to see if there are any gaps or unmet needs of students with disabilities,” said Littleton.

Driscoll stated that the program PATHWAYS, which is behavior technique training, is being used schoolwide at Stadium Elementary and is very successful.

“The program is helping teachers and TA’s with understanding different behaviors. There will be a district-wide initiative for school year 2017/18 according to Michele Simpson [executive director of Pupil Personnel Services],” said Driscoll.

The district is working on getting Hope Highlands set up as full three-grade middle school and all the appropriate staff that it calls for. Driscoll reported that there is a shortage of school psychologists throughout the district.

The school committee report stated that they passed the budget presented by Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse.

“We are anticipating 3.5 million from the state and have requested an additional 1.7 million from the city,” said Fusco.

Since this is the last year of the fair-funding formula, the district is looking at possibly being level-funded by the state in future years.

Fusco suggested people reach out to their legislatures to keep the fair-funding formula in place.  Under new business of the meeting, member Suzanne Arena suggested that administration look into accommodating parents in a new way.

“I think it would be beneficial to possibly provide parents with information and reports prior to team meetings and evaluations. I think we could collaborate with families and the district on new guidelines to make it easier so parents aren’t so overwhelmed seeing reports for the first time when they sit down at a meeting. It is difficult to digest all the information and try to make educated and correct decisions about your child,” she said.

The next SEAC meeting will be Tuesday, March 7 at 7 p.m. in the Horton Building.

To learn more about Cranston SEAC visit www.cpsed.net/index.php/parent-and-community-resouces/seac or their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CranstonSEAC.

 To learn more about SEAC and Special Education regulations, visit sos.ri.gov/documents/archives/regdocs/released/pdf/DESE/7377.pdf.

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