Friday, April 23, 1999
State proposes changes for SPED; program in Carlisle comprehensive
Special education (SPED) reform is a hot topic on Beacon Hill this year, with three different bills currently being considered. Each of the bills contains a different plan to address the funding of special education as well as other issues. Any reform will have some impact on Carlisle, but just what that will be depends on the final outcome in the state legislature.
The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS) has recently issued a report on the impact of special education on education reform. They conclude that the funds for educating severely disabled students are taking away from the funding of regular education and education reform. The MASS report recommends, among other things, increased state funding of special education to help spread the burden.
Also at the state level, Commissioner of Education David Driscoll has proposed changes to the regulations on special education. Emphasizing that the proposed changes are not intended to withhold or withdraw services from students who need them, he says that the intent is to ensure that resources are distributed fairly to all students. The proposed changes include streamlining the regulations from the current 136 pages to 29 pages, tightening up definitions, and giving school districts greater flexibility in managing special education services.
With this as background, Linda Stapp, who directs special education and student services in Carlisle, gave an overview of her department to the school committee at their April 6 meeting.
In Carlisle, fewer SPED students
In Carlisle this year, 12 percent of the students are in special education, down from a longer-term average of 14 percent. Statewide, the average is 16 percent. Stapp attributed the decrease to ongoing support in the classroom, such as the reading specialist, and teachers who have more experience and are more comfortable dealing with special needs within the regular classrooms. She also cited tighter eligibility requirements and more education of parents and teachers about how students can get support in the regular classrooms.
For students who do need to be in special education, Stapp says she tries to provide educationally-sound interventions that are also cost-effective. In Carlisle, she has done this by adding staff at the Carlisle School while reducing more costly outside placements. Classroom and special education teachers have also received specialized training around specific needs.
Four teachers have recently been trained in assistive technology, learning about hardware and software that is available to help special needs students. They will be able to evaluate the needs of the student and match them to helpful technology, Stapp said.
Although the total number of special education students is down, costs are up because the needs of some of the students entering at the lower elementary and preschool levels are greater, Stapp said.
The school nurses' office is staffed by Kathy Horan, R.N. and a part-time nurse. Kathy Mahoney, L.P.N., recently resigned and there are substitutes. A new nurse, Lori Desjardin, L.P.N. has been hired and will start soon. The nurses deal with the health concerns of students and staff, including administering medications, monitoring asthma and diabetes, and overseeing physical therapy. A recent court case in Iowa ruled that schools are responsible for students' medical care while they are in school. Stapp said that she fears insurers will not cover costs if schools are required to provide services.
Sue Helenius LaPorte has been the reading specialist in Carlisle for the past few years. She has been able to incorporate the best parts of many programs to develop a variety of strategies to help all children learn to read, Stapp said. LaPorte works with classroom teachers and special education teachers in grades K-2. She also provides direct instruction to first graders who need it (about 20 percent of the class). Working with the students and teachers in the regular classrooms also helps to keep special education referrals down, Stapp added.
In the future, Stapp would like to have a reading specialist who can work with children in the higher grades as well. LaPorte does not have enough time to do this now, Stapp said.
Life is getting more complicated for children and the guidance counselors, Kim Reid and Lauren Scott-Gross, help them and their teachers keep the focus on learning, Stapp said. The counselors provide crisis intervention when needed and work with students who need help with social skills. The guidance department is also responsible for coordinating standardized testing and explaining test results to parents and staff.
Accommodations for students with disabilities that do not affect learning, and are therefore not in special education, are arranged by the guidance department as well. The counselors and principal Andy Goyer monitor and facilitate rehabilitation plans as required by section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito