SOMSD Education Summit PreK-5 Special Education break-out session




 Random comments made by participants during the course of the session


“(Just because) something is legal doesn’t mean it is ethical”

“I hope someday children will get their needs met (by this district) without requiring their parents to hire an attorney.”

“(Our system of employing paraprofessionals) is broken. We should go back to the old way, rework the system.”

“Who is paying attention to meeting the special needs of the twice exceptional child?”

“Student classroom placement should be done by narrative of the child, not by the numbers”

“I am scared to death that the paraprofessional involved with my child is unqualified and untrained.”

“There is a lot of siloing going on. Special Education teachers are separate. General Education teachers are separate. Inclusion requires more mixing, more ownership, more cross pollination of ideas.”

“Every school in district does Special Education their own way. No consistency.”

“We are getting what we pay for in terms of paraprofessional quality. We need to make an investment.”

“There is a need for more transparency in the Special Education process.”

  Brainstorming all issues (ideas were thrown out first and then, because there were recurring themes, systematically considered under the top 6 overarching and interrelated issues to be further addressed)


Top 6 issues-1.Paraprofessionals, 2. Communication, 3. Inclusion, 4.  Universal Design for Learning/Curriculum (UDL), 5. Policy, Protocol and Evaluations, (PPE) 6. Facilities


*Broaden inclusion curriculum/options so more students can be included. Inclusion/UDL


*Inclusion teachers get time, resources and support to modify curriculum for all. PPE/Paraprofessionals/inclusion/UDL


*Change MINDSET-stop lowering expectations/pecial needs is both strengths and challenges, not just limitations-PPE/Inclusion/paraprofessionals


*More attention to the twice exceptional kids with higher abilities and higher needs-UDL/inclusion


*Strengthening sense of community for with special needs, with REAL inclusiveness vs. a mentoring program. (peer mentor, does it mean that the mentor has all to share and the special needs child doesn’t have anything to share?) Social opportunities/skills are necessary for educational success. Inclusion/PPE/UDL


*Include students who are out of district in the extracurricular activities of their home school PPE/Communication/Inclusion


*Consistent and clear communication within district to special needs families-Currently lacks clarity-Communication (Broad consensus on this issue)


*Invest in Universal Design for Learning to meet needs of all students-multiple ways to teach and learn-multiple means of a. representation, b. assessment and c. motivation-UDL


*Spatial Design for learners (for example, stand-up desks) UDL/Facilities


*Class makeups based on narratives of needs vs. number of students needed for class. Student centered placements. PPE


*A list of options for students based on their needs. Individual Blueprint or Road Map.



*Adding more lifeskills training earlier as part of the curriculm to develop executive function. UDL/inclusion (more vocational options later on in HS.)


*An accessible Menu of services/programs/placements with clear explanation of what they are, who they would serve and where they are available. Communication


*More dynamic IEP (a format that is less of a check list and allows for more narrative.) PPE


*Kinesthetic/auditory/physical/movement oriented learning UDL


*PARAPROFESSIONALS-training, role and their educational background-Paraprofessionals (Broad consensus on the importance of examining this issue and making changes.)


*Provide special education information to parents regarding the child study team and their roles in working with each child and family-Communication


*Provide clearer understanding of denials of IEPs at initial entry into the district (aging out of Early Intervention to working with Child Study Team)-PPE



Top Issues


Issues Raised/Discussions to be had/Actions needed



  1. Paraprofessionals


*need for Highly Qualified Paras, (just like Highly Qualified Teachers)


*bring Paraprofessional hiring back into the school district/work around 1/2 day rule (need to give benefits) to be economical


*Training paras (create a document as a resource by specialists)-who is responsible? Teacher as para training manager? (How has the teacher been trained for this role?)


*Document para effectiveness (create an evaluation process)


*lack of consistency across district


*need to understand/show connection that highly qualified paras lead to student success-ends of being more cost effective-may be able to retain some children who would otherwise go out of district?


*paraprofessional attendance at IEP meetings and parent teacher conferences as person who may know the child the best-if not, have paras provide input on form



  1. Communication


*Handbook for process-sections written by teachers (during PD), parents, CST, Administration

New Comers Guide


*More open dialogue between educators and parents


*Access to information about the process, programs and services (in order to build trust)


*Consistency across all schools


*differentiated instruction for parents/guardians (for example, a visual presentation) to help people understand the special education process


*workshops on Special Education process (perhaps just one topic at a time) during Parent Teacher conference day/in conjunction with Back to School Night


*creating a space for people to ask questions and be vulnerable


*making parents/guardians aware of SEPAC and SPED PTO on a regular basis as part of IEP meetings


*Use technology to get people aware of events (communication blasting)


*need for glossary of terms used


*workshops for parents/guardians on

  1. How to read an IEP
  2. How to read an evaluation and understand what is says.


  1. Inclusion


*What is the policy? What does it look like? What could it look like? District is currently rather limited in who it can include


*Inherent in all aspects of child’s education.


*need for more consistency from school to school.


*resources for both special and general education students to make inclusion happen.


*need spaces available to allow students to move into less restrictive environments from more restrictive environments when they are ready (lack of seats in inclusive classrooms)


*the inclusion of OOD in activities at their home schools


*general community involvement-JESPY HOUSE partnership


*Ensure options for different needs-Who gets to be included? Inclusion may not be the environment for all but can be the environment for many, even significantly challenged children, if resources are allotted to meet their needs


*Get leadership buy in from the top down



  1. Universal Design for Learning/Curriculum


*Professional Development to teach skills to use


*Looking at schools/districts that use UDL as models (Renaissance School in Montclair?)


*Teach to the child, not based on numbers (Don’t just fill a capacity for a class.)



  1. 5. Policy, Protocol and Evaluations


*Professional Development for Special Educators, General Educators and Paraprofessionals together as a team


*consistent policies/programs communicated publicly


*Is the evaluation process working?


*Paras-make them employees of the district again.


*consistency across schools in regards to para training


*Transitioning of students from grade to grade, ES to MS, MS to HS, HS to life beyond, In district to Out of district, Out of district to In.



  1. Facilities


*Tear down of typical classroom (look at High Tech High, Millburn plan, etc.)


*Well thought out planning




*Modified seating in to meet needs of students (for example, if needed, use stand up desks)


*ADA accessibility in buildings and grounds (for example, wheelchairs and terrain.)


*general classroom toxicity (for example, overhead lighting.)