On the Agenda

Regents to vote on relaxing some special ed requirements

The State Education Department is considering relaxing some requirements for how students with special needs are served, a cost-cutting bid that has advocates worried.

The state has asked the Board of Regents to approve a slate of “mandate relief” measures at its monthly meeting next week. The measures that SED wants lifted include the requirement that a psychologist weigh in every time disabled students’ individualized education plans are changed and the prescription of specific tests when a student who is suspected of having a disability is first evaluated.

Currently, school psychologists are full-time members of special education committees that make all decisions related to a student’s IEP, but the new regulation would only require them to consult on initial IEP meetings.

In addition, the new regulations would no longer require psychological evaluations, speech and language tests and assessments from therapists, all of which are currently conducted when a student is first diagnosed.

Such services are costly and districts complain that the mandates go above and beyond what is required for many of their students. New York, the country’s top-spending state in per-pupil special education services, has about 200 more special education mandates in place than the federal government requires, and SED argues that the extra requirements are restrictive for local districts. 

The proposed regulations are the culmination of discussions that have lasted for more than a year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked up the beat when he entered office earlier this year and has made mandate relief a priority as part of his efforts to reduce education funding and ease the tax burden on New Yorkers.

The recommendations came despite widespread opposition from people who spoke during the public comment period that was opened this summer. They included family members of students with disabilities, teachers, special education service providers, and advocacy organizations.

“It’s definitely something that the advocacy community is worried about,” said Maggie Moroff, Advocates for Children’s special education coordinator.

The recommendations are also likely to be met with some opposition from at least one Board of Regents member.

“Our neediest children need protections,” said Regent Kathy Cashin. “Our psychologists need to be able to give children evaluations and it should be a high mandate to make sure our kids get what they deserve.”

Also on the agenda for Monday’s P-12 Education Committee meeting on Monday is a $113 million federal charter school grant and how that money should be doled out to charter schools. To qualify for the grant money, charter school applicants will have to demonstrate a commitment to bringing larger populations of high-needs students. The priority is in line with recent efforts by charter authorizer to push charter school applicants to do more to welcome these types of students.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.