On October 19, 2017, the SE PAC hosted a round table with the Office of Student Services (OSS). Three representatives of Office of Student Services, led by Jean Spera, met with parents and caregivers. Topics covered included: recent MCAS results, the quality and size of physical spaces where special education programs are housed, the programs for children with language based learning disabilities and for children on the autism spectrum, supports for inclusion. Jean Spera reiterated the power of parent and caregiver advocacy and referenced the successful advocacy of the SE PAC in the district wide planning process.
Three representatives of Office of Student Services, led by Jean Spera, met with parents and caregivers. Updates from OSS:
- The SE PAC will be contacted soon about participation in the hiring of a permanent Deputy Superintendent for OSS
- In the meantime, OSS intends to continue the work started by Dr. Greer and maintain stability for students, families and teachers
- CAST (Universal Design) is being piloted in Morse school
Issues raised by attendees and OSS responses:
Children on IEPs are scoring far lower than any other sub group on MCAS.
JS responded that the school committee is discussing setting targets for all students and sub groups. Also, this is the first time CPS has a mandate from the superintendent on inclusive education and support from above. It’s a starting point to motivate action planning at the district level.
Children on IEPs are learning in sub-par physical spaces (example of special education students working in hallways)
JS agrees that space is a significant problem in the district and recommends that families advocate with building principals for appropriate spaces for special education programs.
Language based learning disabilities
Multiple parents asked about the language based learning disabilities program (why so few children are enrolled, why the space provided is inadequate, why there is no middle school program, why we don’t have better screening to identify children in need of services). One parent asked for a task force on language based learning difficulties in Cambridge.
JS responded that a program review will be done in the future and that parent advocacy is important. She indicated that a strong program was in place and that it may need to be nurtured. She also said that some parents do not want their children in the program and try to get their children out of the system instead. Screening would provide valuable information. Last year CPS trained 20 staff in Tier 1 Orton-Gillingham. This year there is a cohort doing the Tier 2 practicum.
How can parents and the SE-PAC strengthen to support OSS?
The barrier used to be at the level of OSS but appears to be at the building level now. JS commented that the SE-PAC’s advocacy on the district plan was helpful.
Some parents indicate that the general education side of the co-teaching teams are not prepared to educate students with disabilities and need additional Professional Development. Some general education teachers want to do better but do not feel they have the resources to meet the needs of all of their students.
JS mentioned that buy in from the school level administration is key for this. In response, one parent stated that the district should insist that everyone get on board with inclusion or be asked to leave.
Math curricula can be chosen at the teacher level. This is problematic because our children are likely to move from school to school. We should be advocating for citywide curriculum.
OSS wants to be involved in curriculum selection and was included in the selection of the math curriculum. OSS was not aware that the math curriculum was optional.
Lack of progress
If a child is not successful and is getting everything CPS offers, we cannot accept a lack of progress.
OSS replied that the goal is grade level standards but we have to meet students where they are. There are minimal barriers to resources, and teams have the option to make recommendations. The team chairs need to be aware of all the options they have.
The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) sub separate program
Behavior management is trumping learning in the ASD programs. Many children are not accessing the curriculum.
OSS responded that there was a program review and that changes are underway. ACE curriculum and Teach Town will be implemented starting in November.
Out of district placements
A lot of money is being spent. Why can’t we improve our programs to meet the needs of these children? As we think about inclusion, how are we thinking about out of district placements?
JS said that the district has explored creating in district programs for some of these children, for example medically fragile children. CPS does not have enough children to fill a cohort in many cases. Also, space is a problem.
The suggestion was made that the SE PAC needs a platform with our points, and we need to sign off on them and train, workshop, organize.