LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS / Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education meeting highlights for Sept. 20, 2016 [online]
SEPTEMBER 20, 2016
- Board actions on policy, contract and personnel
- Work session on special education programs
Board actions on policy, contract and personnel
The board approved a Standard-Based School Counselor Evaluation Policy on third reading; a contract with the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County/Inter-District Service Area for 2016–17, which entails three positions; and several routine personnel items.
Work session on special education programs
Jeffrey Johnston, Ph.D., director of student services, presented an overview of special needs programming and its alignment with the district’s strategic plan. In the 2015–16 [academic year], 1,003 special needs students attended CH-UH city schools. Typically, special needs students comprise 16–18 percent of the district’s student population, similar to most inner-ring suburban districts. Special needs students transfer from school to school with disproportional frequency. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides federal funding for certain qualified students, but school districts are mandated to provide accessible programming to all disabled students, so the districts themselves are responsible for funding special services for those disabled students who do not qualify for federal funds. In all, the district receives $1.6 million in federal funds for special needs education.
In keeping with the strategic plan goal of equity, empowerment and opportunity, the district strives to provide equitable access to a rigorous, relevant curriculum that includes differentiated instruction and service by support staff like social workers and counselors. In light of state report card scores, the current emphasis is on special needs students spending more time focused on core curriculum, which necessitates a shift toward a less restrictive environment and more inclusion in regular classrooms. The changing nature of state testing makes it difficult to demonstrate the progress of a special needs student.
The Child Find [mandate] requires districts to identify any student who requires special services. If parents or staff suspect a disability, the district must evaluate the student within 60 days and provide appropriate services, which can range from full inclusion to a separate environment. Thus, intervention may be accomplished in a variety of ways by: specialists providing support within the regular classroom, co-teaching arrangements, time spent in a resource room, home instruction by district staff, or instruction in a separate facility. Usually 90 to 100 students receive home instruction each year by district staff, often for temporary medical reasons. Currently, 55 students receive programming in separate facilities. An individualized education plan team, in partnership with the student’s family, determines placement in a more intensive environment.
Some of the more specialized services offered include the Wilson Reading Program for students who read significantly below grade level, the Special Olympics, Fieldstone Farms and Advancement via Individual Determination. A district autism team is also being established. To address the strategic plan’s goal of readiness for college and/or career, the district has added community-based work experience and career-based intervention courses at the high school. Transition services have also become increasingly important.
As a result of Child Find, more special needs students are being identified, so the cost of serving them is increasing. The district is also responsible for identifying non-public school students at a yearly staff cost of $350,000. CH-UH ranks in the top quarter of state districts in provision of special needs services. The district meets expectations set by the Ohio Department of Education, showing that identification is equitable and timely, and the student/teacher ratio is appropriate.
Lisa Hunt and Amy Kerr-Jung are parents of special education students who are also employed as district staff [through Reaching Heights], paid with federal special education funds. They are developing connections among parents of children in special education programs and between the parents and the district. They have spearheaded the inclusion of these parents in curriculum nights, establishment of an Exceptional Child Art Exhibit, parent support representatives in every school and parent workshops.
LWV Observer: Nancy Dietrich.
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League of Women Voters
Observer Corps editor for the Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland