being heard

Ahead of special ed hearing, advocates say many concerns need airing

Last May, Gloria Corsino was enlisted by a Spanish-speaking mother who needed help finding an occupational therapist for her son. Faced with an English-only list of therapists to call after his school couldn’t provide the services for her son’s disability, the mother was stumped.

Language wasn’t the only barrier that Corsino, president of the Citywide Education Council for District 75, found when she started calling.

“There was no provider who could take the child on,” Corsino recalled, noting that she dialed up more than 20 private therapists, all of whom told her they were no longer working with the Department of Education and could not help.

Corsino is among the many advocates ready to air their concerns at a special education hearing on Tuesday, which is being convened by the City Council’s education committee and is expected to touch on issues of equity, class sizes, and how best to improve instruction for students with disabilities.

To some, the hearing will be a chance to raise issues about the inequities that were revealed in data provided to Chalkbeat by the Department of Education showing that students living in some poorer and more far-flung neighborhoods received one category of required services less often than other city students.

“It’s unacceptable,” said former high school teacher Mark Treyger, now a City Council member representing Coney Island, where those services weren’t being delivered 2.5 times more often than the citywide average. “This data validates that the ‘outer’ outer boroughs don’t always get their fair share.”

Treyger is one of 13 elected officials sponsoring a bill that will also be up for discussion at the hearing. The legislation would force the city to annually release information about how often it is not meeting the requirements of students’ personalized learning plans.

The City Council doesn’t have the power to force the city to change its policies, but officials said they crafted the bill to mimic legislation that has required the city to reveal more school-discipline data — information that advocates believe has helped reduce suspension rates as the city worked to lower those figures.

“A big part of it is shedding a light on this so we can get to the bottom of this,” said Daniel Dromm, who chairs the education committee. “They’re doing some things that we’re happy about, but I think more needs to be done.”

Corsino’s testimony will focus on a dearth of therapists who can provide “related services,” the type of special-education support that includes physical therapy, counseling, and help for sight or hearing problems. Chalkbeat found that more than 15,000 different services went unprovided at the end of the last school year — about 6 percent of all mandated services. That figure is down 15 percent since 2010, though the numbers have crept up in some neighborhoods, especially in the Bronx.

“These services are a necessary thing to make our students much more functional,” said Corsino, a parent of two high school-aged sons with autism-spectrum disorders. “When you don’t receive those services, you aren’t going to get the outcomes that you could be getting.”

Also under a microscope will be the city’s broader special education reform effort, which has incentivized schools to serve special-needs students whom they might have referred elsewhere in the past. The changes are broad in scope: Nearly one in five city students is classified as having special needs, and over the last two years, the share of those recommended to receive only part-time support has jumped 10 percentage points.

Last fall, the teachers union received 151 complaints from teachers related to special education, a 60 percent increase over the same period a year before. The complaints, first reported by Chalkbeat, reflect the new demands that have been placed on schools by the overhaul.

Karen Sprowal, a parent advocate whose special-needs son is in sixth grade, said that she plans to lobby the education committee to seek more funding in the city’s capital budget for schools to reduce class sizes and hire more staff to help schools with the new guidelines.

Others see the hearing as an opportunity to get beyond the questions of legal mandates and ask questions about what those students with disabilities are learning.

Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, is waiting to hear about how the department can help schools lift academic achievement for students with disabilities. Just 6 percent of those students hit the state’s proficiency standard on its English and math exams in the 2012-13 school year, compared to 35 percent of students without disabilities.

“It’s really time to focus on preparing these schools pedagogically to meet the needs of a wider range of students,” Sweet said.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.