RCAPS parents concerned over special education service changes
REED CITY — While it was not a line item on the agenda, most of Reed City Area Public Schools board of education meeting on Monday was spent discussing pending changes to special education services in the district.
The Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District, which runs special education programs for the six local districts it serves, held a presentation last week on the benefits of a teacher consultant model that integrates students with autism into general education classes with the support of a teacher consultant and peer-to-peer mentoring.
However, the parents of special education students at RCAPS who spoke at Monday’s meeting see the teacher consultant model as a step backward from the progress the intermediate school district and Reed City schools have made in creating an environment where autistic students can get the special attention they need and join general education classes when possible.
“My son has benefited directly from (the current) program,” said Anne Bianchi, whose son is autistic and attends Reed City Middle School. “(Autism Spectrum Disorder) classrooms are staffed with highly-trained staff. ... It’s this level of support that’s provided my son with the progress he’s made. I would ask the board to ask the MOISD to reconsider.”
RCAPS President Dan Boyer explained that although the special education classrooms are housed in the district, the MOISD still runs the programs.
“I can understand why there is no gold standard (for special education services),” Boyer said. Several aspects of the new model still are unknown, such as when general education teachers and teacher consultants will complete training to be better equipped to teach autistic students, which teachers will be required to complete the training and whether the MOISD or local districts will cover the costs.
“My concern is for your general education teachers and that they’re not prepared for what’s coming their way,” said Jeni Decker Lopez, who has two sons with autism who attend Reed City schools. “We know each other’s kids and we know what ability they’re at. It seems the ISD doesn’t know our kids because they are putting so much on (the general education teachers).”
Local superintendents and special education directors gave input to the MOISD in developing the structure of the teacher consultant model, which was initially explored because a large number of autistic and emotionally impaired students are headed for high school in the upcoming years. To add a separate ASD classroom for high school students would cost the MOISD between $200,000 and $300,000, including the cost of staff.
Currently, the MOISD runs an ASD classroom for younger students at RCAPS, with a teacher who specializes in working with students with autism and the assistance of paraprofessionals as students need them. With the teacher consultant model, high school and middle school students would be placed in general education classes — with paraprofessional support as needed — and the teacher consultant would work with the general education teacher and special education director to oversee instruction. Peer mentoring also is a component of that model.
If students cannot succeed in general education classes, they can spend part of the day in a resource room — where students with a variety of needs receive smaller-group attention — or they can attend the MOISD’s Education Center for students with more severe impairments.
In other news, the board approved its superintendent search process, following Superintendent Steven Westhoff’s announcement of retirement in April. On May 28, the board will hold a closed meeting to review applicants and name their top five to seven candidates. The first round of interviews will take place on June 5 and 6, followed by second interviews on June 7 with the top two or three candidates. The board hopes to propose a contract for the new superintendent by July 1.