The Cranston Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) held their first meeting on Oct. 2 with a presentation given by district administrators on special education process and eligibility.
SEAC is a group of parents, teachers and administrators working collaboratively to provide input on special education issues to its district. Its purpose is to advise and advocate; they do not set policy.
Michele Simpson, Executive Director for Pupil Personnel Services, and Julie Driscoll, Director of the Early Childhood Center, explained how the process starts and all the steps a family and student will go through when an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is sought.
Currently, there are 1722 active IEPs in Cranston.
“We have 135 Pre-K students, 626 K-5, 82 K students with IEPs, all started the year off with the IEP service,” explained Simpson. “In grades 6-8 there are 393, and students in grades 9-12 there are 552. We have 16 students that in grade 12 which mean they can have services up to age 21.”
Simpson started also explained how an IEP comes to be.
“It all starts with a referral, whether from a parent, preschool, daycare, grandparent, pediatrician. That is a big misperception about who can make a referral. It doesn’t have to be just a teacher, parent only,” she said.
A referral is some type of written documentation. Simpson created a form several years ago; that is simple, and allows families to fill in the information.
“It’s just so the receiving team has a little information about the child. These are the concerns about my child. We want to be able to get a little bit of information, and have the correct people at the table when the time comes,” she said.
The team must consist of a member of the LEA (local education agency), which is an administrator, a teacher, a parent, speech if needed, OT, PT, we need to make sure they have the appropriate staff.
“We will inundate you, we will overload you, because we are going to ask you questions that you never thought you would be asked. As time goes on, and you have your three-year and six year evaluations, we look at you as part of the team. You are the information person. You know your child best,” she said.
There are three questions that the team asks during the evaluation.
“Do we suspect a disability? Does that disability impact the child’s learning? And, does the child require specialized learning? The first question is the most important. When we review the referral what is the area of concern. Then we ask for consent from the parent to evaluate,” Simpson said.
Her philosophy of a special education is that “we give it to you, and then we take it away. We give you the support you need, and take it away when you no longer need it. Eventually, you will be going out into the world as an adult, and they’re not the same. You’re not going to go to a separate market, church or anything else. The world is not separate,” she said.
When a referral is made, they have 10 calendar days to act upon it.
Julie Driscoll clarified the evaluation process.
“The team then decides what evaluations are necessary. If we suspect there are just speech concerns, we will only ask for a speech evaluation. But, there could be multiple areas. Once we received consent, we have 60 calendar days to complete an evaluation,” she said.
Driscoll said an observation is the best part of the evaluation process.
“Even though we have all this data, and standardized testing, we really want to see how they function in the school environment or a play group. How is this suspected disability affecting them educationally? That always gives us a lot of useful information,” she said.
When evaluations are completed, the team comes back together for the eligibility meeting to review the evaluation.
“We do kill you with paper at the eligibility meeting,” said Simpson.
There are so many questions on the forms, our regulations require it.”
“If specialized education is needed, what is the next step? We have 10 days to prepare an IEP. What are the goals? Tell us what you feel your child needs to succeed,” Simpson said.
Driscoll said there would be times when a child simply does not qualify for services. Not every referral will result in special services.
Once a child does qualify for services, it is determined what specific areas they have needs in. There are 13 disabling conditions to choose from under federal law.
“Most of the time, in Early Education it is developmental delay or speech and language. Developmental delay is when they child is behind in one or more developmental areas. Which means they are twenty-five percent less functioning then their peers, or one and half deviations below on a standardized testing,” Driscoll said.
Other areas that qualify children include autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, emotionally disturbed, visual impairment, and anything that will impact their educational process.
“A child can only fall into the developmental delay category up until eight years old, and speech and language until nine years old. For developmental delay, you would have to determine another disabling condition for that service. After you’ve had initial evaluation, next, child is six still not sure, so they are still under developmental delay and by eight, you are at a three year evaluation and need to make a decision.
Is the child intellectually disabled, learning disabled, have a learning disability in a certain area, or doesn’t need services anymore,” Simpson said.
A child can only be found to be eligible for service for three years. They must be reevaluated after that.
“The whole idea is for us to provide you with the support so you can lose the services,” Simpson said.
Families are given ten-day notice of services starting. Parents have the right to give consent. Services cannot be provided without written consent.
“Even though we know your child needs help, we cannot do anything without written consent,” Simpson said.
IEP’s can be reviewed at anytime; they can be amended at anytime.
They can provide services to children as young as 28 months, and up to 21 years old.
SEAC is partnering with RIPIN for a special workshop focusing on Bullying and Harassment of students with disabilities. It is Monday, October 22, 6:00 pm, CHSE. Admission is free, but registration is required. Go to www.ripin.org.workshops.html or call Michele Percival at (401) 270-0101 x127.
SEAC is a free organization for any parent in Cranston Public Schools. To learn more about them, visit their Facebook page, entitled Cranston SEAC.