Florence 1 Schools announces Exceptional Education Department restructuring
After a ribbon cutting for Carver Elementary Magnet School’s new inclusive playground equipment April 17, Florence 1 Schools (F1S) officials announced reorganization efforts in the Exceptional Education Department.
F1S Superintendent Dr. Richard O’Malley said that the district has three goals for the restructuring: decrease disproportionality, increase Individual Education Plan (IEP) compliance, and increase programs and supports for students.
“Over the past several months we have been looking at the programs in our Exceptional Education Department,” O’Malley said. “With our reorganization efforts, we are adding positions that we feel are critical to providing the services and opportunities that we want for all of our students.”
One of those critical positions is the Parent Liaison.
“One of the most important parts of the organization chart for us is that Parent Liaison,” O’Malley said. “We are really looking to hire someone who understands the system and also understands the resources outside the school system. Two other positions that are even new to the district and to South Carolina will be the Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultants. These will be the staff members who actually write out the IEPs. Right now our teachers are writing the IEP. We want them to be part of the IEP process but not writing the IEP. The Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultants will coordinate all of the staff and services in the IEP process.”
Brian Denny, Director of Exceptional Education, said that writing an IEP that meets a student’s needs is vital to their success.
“We are trying to make sure that the IEP is written in a way that represents the child and is compliant with what the state and federal regulations are,” Denny said. “We also know that having a compliant IEP makes the work more meaningful and, hopefully, makes the work more understandable for everybody, meaning that anyone can look at it and understand what that child’s needs are.”
Part of the district’s efforts to have greater oversight of special education programs is to address disproportionality, recognized as an over-representation of minority students in special education programs which could signal a student’s needs have been misclassified.
“When it comes to exceptional education programming, we want to ensure that a student’s needs have been correctly identified,” Denny said. “We want to be sure that we’ve done everything we can before classifying a student as special needs. The key would be early intervention, trying to implement early reading programs and things like that, and not making a snap judgement. We also want to encourage our general education teachers to keep working with students.”
O’Malley said that disproportionality needs to be addressed in order for change to be made.
“Disproportionality is something that we don’t talk about enough, whether it is female or male, black or white students,” O’Malley said. “We have about 2,500 students with an IEP or some type of disability. When you narrow down the demographics of that, 61 percent are Black and 33 percent are White; six percent are other nationalities. As you go forward and look at this deeper, almost 45 percent of students in special ed are Black males.”
The school district must help a student be successful no matter their pathway through school, O’Malley said.
“As we go further on into high school, we begin to talk about diplomas and non-diploma students,” O’Malley said. “As we break those numbers down, Black males represent almost 70 percent of students in special ed who are on a non-diploma track. When they leave our school district without a diploma, the pathways and the transitions are something that we need to do better at, preparing them for their future. We are going to have a really aggressive plan next year to ensure that even before someone gets an IEP that they have services that makes them successful in the classroom. We want to make sure that for the students who do have an IEP that we begin to look at whether there is some sort of other way, other than special education, that we help them achieve their goals.”
Approximately 10 new positions are being added to the Exceptional Education Department. Besides the Parent Liaison, Autism Coordinator and Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultants, there will be Compliance Monitors and an Autism Coordinator added. The department will be more confined to grade configurations with three supervisors, one for pre-elementary, elementary and secondary education.