Friday, October 31, 2008
State reviews Carlisle School SPED and other programs
Requires Action Plan
The Carlisle School is implementing a variety of required changes in its special education, civil rights and English Language Learner (ELL) programs which were cited by the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) after a Coordinated Program Review completed in June.
Modifications run from minor tweaks, such as adding new training topics during the staff’s opening day meetings in September, to major changes such as re-locating the Occupational Therapy room to a handicapped-accessible location. Space issues are the most difficult to remedy, as they cannot wait for the proposed school building project to be completed. State special education funds and grants could be withheld if changes are not made within a year of the DOE report.
All Massachusetts public school districts are reviewed every six years, with a follow-up three years after the review. Carlisle’s Coordinated Program Review, an 87-page report, evaluates how the school delivers over roughly 100 state-mandated legal standards in areas of special education, civil rights, and English Language Learner education.
A three-member team from the DOE visited the school in November and December of 2007, interviewing administrators, staff members and parents. They toured the school facilities and reviewed written documentation and parent surveys. Each of the evaluation criteria was given one of six ratings: commendable, implemented, implementation in progress, partially implemented, not implemented, and not applicable. If corrections or updates are required, the DOE requests an Action Plan from the school to detail the remedies to be taken. Carlisle was judged “commendable” in one area. Educational criteria were judged “implemented” in about 55 areas, while another 43 areas were found to be “partially implemented.”
The Carlisle School was previously reviewed in 2001, with a follow-up in 2005 (see lists of documents at end).
The Carlisle School received one “commendable” rating, described by the DOE as a practice “implemented in an exemplary manner significantly beyond the requirements of law or regulation.” The school was praised for holding middle school Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings at times that did not conflict with scheduled classes. This allows all teachers to attend the meetings without the use of substitutes. They also commended the level of staff collaboration, noting specific team meeting times are built into the weekly schedule. The school received praise for providing student assessment reports to parents before student team meetings are held, whether or not they are requested. “In addition,” the DOE reported, “staff indicated that administrators are supportive, readily available and very visible in the district.”
Action Plan submitted
The DOE team found 43 “partially implemented” practices, meaning the school is performing at least some of the required educational practices but must address shortcomings. In response to these findings, the Carlisle School submitted an Action Plan in July which documented proposed remedies for each practice found partially implemented.
The DOE recently responded with a “Review of Local Corrective Action Plan.” In this document the DOE notes which remedies are accepted and which must be modified further. The majority of the proposals were partially disapproved, some due to the school’s inclusion of incorrect due dates. Evidence of progress must be shown by December with a completion date of March 2009.
Other schools in similar boats
A check of Coordinated Program Reviews from 2005 to 2008 for all schools in the Middlesex County reveals that every school had to develop an Action Plan to address deficiencies found by the DOE. The number of items cited varied between the schools from a low of 12 to a high of over 55 cited deficencies. In 2008, five public schools in Middlesex country were reviewed
Of the 43 findings, Director of Student Services Karen Slack explained that the most difficult to remedy involve the need for classroom changes for Special Education. By law the school must offer facilities that are “at least equal in all physical respects to the average standards of general education facilities and classrooms.”
One problem has been addressed. A classroom in the Wilkins Building was shared last year by both Special Education and ELL, but the DOE said the two programs must have separate spaces. The Wilkins classroom has since been allocated to Special Education, while ELL has been moved to its own room in the Spalding Building.
However, no solution has been found for other space issues. The school was cited for the size of the learning center classrooms in the Wilkins and Robbins buildings. The DOE report notes, “Multiple teachers are assigned to each learning center, and at times, simultaneously in the Wilkins learning center, causing noise and distractions.”
The last problem involves the occupational and physical therapy room in Spalding, which is accessed via a narrow staircase. The DOE report points out that it is “not accessible to all students with physical impairments. This space is also often crowded, which results in students having to receive services in other spaces that may be inappropriate, such as the teachers’ rooms.” The problem has existed for several years. During this time school enrollment has dropped, freeing up classrooms, but the space was assigned to other uses.
Short-term solution needed
The school’s Action Plan indicated that the learning centers and the occupational and physical therapy room would be replaced as part of the school’s plans to replace the Spalding Building. However, the DOE would not accept the proposal to wait until the building project is completed and is requiring an interim plan by December 2008. When asked what the school was going to do to fix the problem, Slack threw her hands up into the air and simply replied, “I don’t know.”
Preschool enrollment affected
The Carlisle School has an Integrated Preschool, which is an inclusionary program for students with and without disabilities. Records documented the preschool’s goal to have an equal number of regular education students (who pay tuition) and special education students (who do not pay tuition due to state funding), and the class has accommodated up to 10 special needs and 10 general education students. However, according to the DOE, the class size cannot exceed 15 general education and five special needs students with one certified teacher and one aide. Though the school was out of compliance in the past with the enrollment requirements, currently the school has 10 general education students and four special needs students, which meet the standards.
Professional credentials needed
The DOE team examined staff certifications and found one preschool teacher does not currently hold “appropriate special education licensure,” and a school psychologist has an expired license. “There are three school psychologist positions,” explained Slack. “The middle school position is shared by two different people who split the time to add up to one full-time job.” The school is required to show the staff members have the correct license or waivers by December 2008.
The DOE noted the school psychologists fulfill the role of school counselors but do not have guidance counselor licensure. Slack explained the school psychologists are hired to enable the school to do special education testing in house, saving the district the cost of testing outside of the school. She will revise the job listing to reflect the school psychologist position instead of school counselor.
Special education curriculum, civil rights reviews needed
The DOE has asked the school to conduct a special education curriculum review and Slack said she will be hiring “an experienced program evaluator” to review special education programs. In addition, the school was cited for not having a formal procedure to evaluate equal access to all school programs. Slack said the principals will handle this issue.
The school was also cited for not including four policies in the Parent Information Handbook, including: a nondiscrimination policy; procedures for the discipline of students with special needs; procedures for the discipline of students with 504 Accommodation Plans; and procedures assuring due process for disciplinary hearings.
Increased role for SEPAC
Each district is required to have a Special Education Parent Action Council (SEPAC) which advises the special education department. According to Massachusetts law, membership includes “all parents of eligible students and other interested parties.” The DOE report stated that the Carlisle SEPAC “does not formally advise the district on matters that pertain to the education and safety of students with disabilities, and does not participate in the evaluation of the school district’s special education program.” The DOE noted, however, that Slack is in “frequent communication” with SEPAC and attends all the meetings. According to the school’s Action Plan, going forward, the SEPAC meetings will include a formal opportunity to give feedback to the school on special education issues on a bi-monthly basis. SEPAC members will also participate in a special education annual review through a parent survey.
Translating documents, ELL
Under the ELL program, the school must offer to translate documents for families who speak another language. Also, the school must use interpreters if necessary. Slack said that when the school has information that English is not the primary language spoken at home, parents of children with special needs will be asked if documentation requires translation. Each parent of an ELL student will also be contacted to determine if translated documents are required.
Families of students who are identified as qualifying for ELL services must be notified of their right to waive their child’s involvement in the program. Slack is including language explaining this option. The school was cited for not offering enough ELL hours; however, Slack is waiting to hear if the program will be accepted as it stands. She characterized the required number of hours where students are to receive ELL instruction out of their regular classroom as excessive.
A number of scheduling compliance issues related to special education assessments and meetings are being handled by one larger solution. Delays in mandated scheduling can impact student services. Slack said she has created a tracking form which will be used to document information such as annual review dates, parent meeting requests, and assessment completion dates. She will review the forms each month to be sure all processes are being done on time.
A variety of training changes are occurring. Before opening day all staff, including bus drivers, will be made aware of any special needs relating to their students. Slack said bus drivers are given a list of students with special needs on their buses. This has been done in the past but not by opening day, Slack explained.
Before school begins, all staff are to participate in training on the use of physical restraints ( e.g. stopping a fight) and on civil rights responsibilities.
Special education teachers will receive training on writing evaluation recommendations. For instance, a speech and language evaluation is to contain concrete educational and/or therapeutic recommendations. Staff will also be trained to better document the need for various kinds of special education services. This was a “commendable” practice in 2001, but is a “partially implemented” process in 2008.
of students with disabilities
The DOE team noted the school does not have a consistent procedure used in cases of suspension of students with disabilities. It is the school’s right to suspend any student whose behavior involves weapons, illegal drugs, or is identified to be a substantial danger to self or others. However, in the case of a student with disabilities, the school must convene the child’s teachers, parents, and administrators to determine whether the behavior was related to the student’s disabilities and/or due to inadequate student support services. Slack said the district will provide the relevant training for administrators and psychologists.
State funds may be available
As of the middle of October Slack had about 12 required changes in place. Responding to the requirements is time-consuming, she noted. According to the DOE the school district may apply for special education grants to support the implementation of some of the corrections and Slack said the school plans to apply. ∆
2008 Coordinated Program Review:
2001 Coordinated Program Review:
2005 Mid-cycle Follow Up Report:
2007-2008 school year. ∆
© 2008 The