Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Special Education: A Challenge for Families and Districts Alike

From The Wellesley Townsman
via Wicked Local Wellesley

By Jordan Mayblum
Marh 19, 2015

Part one of a series: It’s a situation with outcomes that can often be satisfactory but, by the very nature of the circumstances, can never be perfect.

Wellesley’s school officials will ask Town Meeting for a supplemental funding of over $400,000 to make up the difference between their expectations at this time last year and the reality of their budget situation now.

The largest individual driver of that disparity, officials said, is the unpredictability of special education costs that in the most recent budget year accounted for nearly one third of the district’s $64 million-plus operating budget.

School districts are required to provide what’s referred to legally as a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for all of the children in its jurisdiction. To meet that goal, Wellesley has developed multiple programs within its own borders that are meant to include students with their peers while giving them the specialized attention that they need.

Approximately 900 of Wellesley’s public school students are on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), according to Lori Cimeno, the district’s director of student services. Those plans, she said, are negotiated between the district’s team of professionals and parents.

The IEP, Cimeno said, functions as a contract between the district and families and can require services ranging from offering a student extra time on a test or more attention from a tutor to—in the most severe of cases—a placement in a residential care and educational facility out of district at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

Superintendent David Lussier said that he and his colleagues are looking into ways to ease the strain placed on the district by special education costs.

Along with state aid that offsets some of the cost of sending kids out of district, Lussier said the district would look to the federal government and a six percent reimbursement via Medicaid that’s allowed under federal law. That, he said, could ease the strain placed on the budget by special education.

Town Meeting last year budgeted just over $18 million for special education costs. That number, which includes some cuts without any strategic plan investments, will jump to $19.6 million in the upcoming fiscal year if Town Meeting approves the budget as is.

Cimeno said the district has placed an average of 66 children outside of the district in specialized schools over the course of the last few years, with a handful in residential facilities. The decisions on those placements, though, are sometimes a source of conflict for districts and parents.

Finding Answers Elsewhere

Being in a position that requires you to send your child out of the district for school is far from desirable according to Marla Lucas, the chair of the Parent Advisory Council for special education.

“I want to be clear that in-district programs [are] always preferred because of the obstacles of being in an out-of-district program,” Lucas, who has two sons on IEPs, including one who is placed outside of the district. “If it’s not working and it’s more appropriate then of course out-of-district is the way to go.”

Though Lucas’s younger son, Matthew, is placed out of district and in a situation that better fits his needs, it’s not perfect.

“There’s never a perfect situation,” Lucas said.

For the district, sending kids to schools like Newton’s Clearway School—where Matthew is placed—is an expensive undertaking.

The district’s 66 placements in schools outside of town during the current school year cost nearly $6.7 million. A portion of that—$2.2 million—was reimbursed by the state through its Circuit Breaker program.

Circuit Breaker helps offset some of the district’s costs associated with adhering to special education mandates by reimbursing approximately 70 percent of the costs of private tuitions over a the threshold of around $41,000 per student.

According to Cimeno, students’ placements are decided based on the collaborative effort among the members of a student’s IEP team. Those placements are fluid depending on how students are doing, she said.

“It’s not uncommon for a student receiving wraparound services in the home to hit behavioral and safety needs right around middle school,” she said. “It really depends on the disability type as to what the trend tends to be.”

Wellesley has a variety of programs and services within the district to address a host of disabilities and challenges, but for some students that’s still not quite enough. Lucas’s oldest son is on an IEP too, but he remains in-district at the high school.

For her younger son, though, it became evident over time that Wellesley was no longer best suited to handle his needs, she said.

“It was just too big,” Lucas said of Matthew’s ADHD and anxiety issues that became more challenging as he reached middle school. “They didn’t have a small classroom environment to address his needs, which is why he was able to get an out-of-district placement.”

Included in the district’s request for additional money to reconcile its 2015 budget were three changes in placement that drove up costs beyond what officials had anticipated, said Judy Belliveau, Wellesley’s Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance.

Since the end of the last school year the district has had to foot the bill for three new residential placements, including a conversion of one existing placement to residential status.

The district’s obligation to provide an education to students is limited so that they must provide—whether it’s inside or outside of the district—an education that is deemed “appropriate.”

Lawyer Daniel T.
Lawyer Daniel T.S. Heffernan, shown outside his office building in Boston,
helps families who are seeking out-of-district placements for children whose
needs are sometimes too great for the public schools to manage.
(Wicked Local Staff Photo/Sam Goresh)

Dan Heffernan, a lawyer focused on special education who has represented the Lucas family in the past, said it’s not about providing the best possible education, but rather one that is good enough for individual students.

“It’s not that they’re entitled to the best program possible in every way,” Heffernan said, “but something that enables them to make effective progress academically, socially, emotionally and all of that.”

Along with the more permanent out-of-district placements, Cimeno said, the district will sometimes place a student in a temporary “stabilization” placement in a private school. That process, she said, is intended to give students a chance to continue their education in a more specialized setting but leaves room for a shorter-term re-evaluation later on.

IEPs are renegotiated every three years and sometimes those changes result in reductions in district-provided services and changes in out-of-district placements. The district found some savings in its budget during some of those IEP updates, officials said.

“Some students may go out-of-district and actually come back to us for high school, that’s another trend we’ve seen,” Cimeno said. “It really depends on the disability type as to what the trend tends to be.”

The placements, according to Cimeno, are student-specific and the impetus for each is highly variable. A student with behavioral issues or learning disabilities would be addressed differently from a student who is identified as medically fragile or who requires an aide at their side at all times.

The decision to seek an out-of-district placement and earning approval from the district can be a challenging process, according to Heffernan and Lucas, and even the best results can in some ways represent a hollow victory.

Even if they do earn an out-of-district placement, Heffernan said, families don’t walk away feeling like they’ve hit the jackpot.

.....................................................................

Check back next week for the second part of this story, focusing on the challenges of pursuing out-of-district placements for kids with special needs.

7 comments:

  1. great article, thank you for sharing, I think I need it
    ----
    apply baixar facebook movel online free | baixar facebook | baixar facebook gratis

    ReplyDelete
  2. The provisions of interest and other necessary concerns have govern more of the respective thoughts and values now. personal statement writing services

    ReplyDelete
  3. This means that the individuals within the additional developed countries UN agency square measure educated and skilled; they by victimization their skills, information and education build the items of less price the items of additional price. psychology case study template

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow! This is great post and this is so helpful site also. I think everyone should follow this kind of blog. Thanks for share this post.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Every government should work in the field of education and health sector. Because it is the basic need and if the people learn the proper education, the country will earn progress so soon but business management personal statement provides good info. After this health sector is very important. You give the awareness of the common issues which need attention.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Education is the key to success and it is very important to take it with the well way. The director of education should to work properly and try to found out the problems which affected the kids but letter of recommendation writing service provides nice info. I love this material of information.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The state of the India is very vast and there is abundant education department which delivers the good course. These entire institutes are in top positions and students should select the institute about writing a readmission letter to a university which is good for them. This is very useful information for the students who are confused.

    ReplyDelete