A few parents attended the January meeting of the education committee of the Riverside Elementary School District 96 board hoping to hear a substantive discussion of the district’s special education program.
They left the meeting disappointed.
Special education was only briefly discussed at the Jan. 10 meeting, although the committee did decide to add special education to the list of programs to be reviewed during the 2012-13 school year.
“I’m left with the feeling they don’t have much interest in discussing this anytime soon,” said parent Rory Dominick as she left the meeting. “It’s frustrating, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. Special ed isn’t a pressing issue for them.”
Special education will be added to the district’s curriculum review cycle and will be reviewed during the 2012-13 school year. A number of programs are reviewed each year by the education committee as part of its curriculum review cycle.
“That will be on the agenda for the education committee in the fall,” said District 96 school board President Mary Ellen Meindl. “The administration does the review. They most likely will have some type of committee that will have parents on it to look at things. There will be further discussion at the March education committee meeting as to timing.”
Dominick is disappointed about the delay and is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the program review.
“I’m glad that it’s in there in theory, but we have to wait until next year to see what comes of that,” Dominick said.
The district could hire a consultant to review its special education program, an idea that has been floated in the past.
“It’s too soon to tell,” said District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson. Lamberson said he didn’t know what shape the program review would take.
Dominick said that using a consultant could be helpful, but only if the consultant involves teachers and parents in the district.
“I don’t mind a consultant so long as parents, teachers and even the administrators are involved in the discussion, too,” Dominick said. “I wouldn’t want it to be an outsider coming in and not bringing in the people who live it and breathe it into the review.”
In September, Dominick and Cindy Reynolds sent a seven-page letter to the school board, Lamberson and Mary Polk, the district’s director of special education and assessment, formally requesting that a special committee be formed to review the special education program.
The parents maintained that the district does not always offer the least restrictive environment possible to special education students as the district is required to do so by law.
They also complained that the district often does not communicate well with parents about special education issues. Reynolds and Dominick first made their request to the school board to form a special committee to review special education in April of 2011.
Some school board members say that it is difficult to discuss special education issues in public meetings because of the privacy issues involved.
Dominick rejects that contention.
“We never brought up specific child issues,” Dominick said. “We are bringing up things that are happening across the board. We are bringing up issues like communication and policies that are in place but then not in place. And practices. That is a smokescreen.”
Dominick said that it appears to her that the board is not comfortable talking about special education.
“I wish I would see a more definitive interest in asking questions about it,” Dominick said. “I’m not seeing any questions asked. I hear a lot of silence and then a lot of talking around the issue.”