by Jon Pelto from Wait, What
Following up on Wait, What?’s earlier post today about Bridgeport’s massive cuts to special education services;
When it comes to special education services, the State Board of Education’s mission statement could not be clearer. According to that statement, the State Board “believes each student is unique and needs an educational environment that provides for, and accommodates, his or her strengths and areas of needed improvement. The Board also believes that a unified and coordinated continuum of educational opportunities and supports serves and benefits all students.”
The State Board is aided in this task by the State Advisory Council (SAC) on Special Education, a group of dedicated professionals and advocates who work throughout the year to make sure stakeholder concerns are heard and addressed.
While the laws and regulations related to special education are complex, the Connecticut Department of Education’s Parents Guide to Special Education in Connecticut, begins with a fundamental introduction to the issues.
The guide notes that, “education laws and regulations are meant to protect a student with a disability to ensure that he or she receives the services and assistance that may be necessary to make meaningful progress in his or her education program. In Connecticut, the special education system is based on the federal special education law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) and it’s implementing regulations, in combination with the state’s special education law, Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-76a to 10-76h, inclusive and the implementing regulations.”
One need only go to the website for the State Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education (BSE) Resources to see that Connecticut’s special education programs are guided by an extensive set of standards that are based on a number of federal and state laws. Furthermore, it is the state that has the primary responsibility to ensure that special education services are properly provided. (See http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2678&Q=320730)
Bridgeport’s Assault on Special Education:
As we now know, Bridgeport’s $229,000, part-time, interim, superintendent of schools and Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education have adopted a $225.2 million operating budget for FY 2013. The budget details were finally released August 27, 2012.
The single biggest cut in this year’s school budget is for programs intended to support students who need special education services.
The two part cut includes; a $1 million cut that eliminates 14 special education teachers from Bridgeport’s school-based special education programs and a cut of more than $2.6 million dollars (or almost 20%) in the funds that are used to place those students with the greatest needs in appropriate settings, outside of the district.
To achieve these savings, Vallas will significantly increase the teacher to student ratio for those students with disabilities who are getting services in the Bridgeport School System.
In addition, Team Vallas must be assuming that approximately 20%, or one out of every five students, who have been placed in a specialized setting, will be moved back into Bridgeport school system.
After speaking with special education experts around the state, and reviewing various reports on the State Department of Education’s website, it seems apparent that no school district has ever attempted to make such a dramatic reduction in their special education budget, especially over such a short period of time.
By cutting $1 million from school based special education programs and $2.6 million in tuition payments for students who have been placed in alternative settings, the impact on student’s IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) will be extraordinary.
There is simply no way that Bridgeport has held the requisite PPTs or receive parental permission to modify the number of IEPs that would be needed to allow such a massive cut in services.
As parents of students with disabilities know, IEPs must not only be extremely specific but must include appropriate monitoring, as well as, reporting on each student’s progress.
It is absurd to think that the budget cuts that Vallas and the illegal Board of Education have made will not negatively impact existing IEPs. At the very least, new PPTs would be needed to identify whether the steps contained in the IEPs can still be achieved in an environment with 14 fewer special education teachers and 20% of the outplaced students returning to the school system.
The lack of communication and transparency that Vallas and the illegal board have engaged in makes it clear that they are unwilling to fulfill their legal and moral obligation to Bridgeport’s special education students.
That leaves no option but for Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and the State Board of Education to immediately move to put the Bridgeport changes on hold and investigate whether the changes will lead to a violation of federal and state laws.
Anything short of immediate action not only places students needing special education services at risk, but leaves the state open to a variety of major lawsuits that could cost Connecticut taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
Commissioner Pryor, your intervention is needed, before it is too late.