Patience is wearing thin among parents of students who receive special education services in Denver Public Schools (DPS) after learning of another $3.7 million proposed cut for the 2018-2019 school year.
The parents say that the cuts are discriminatory, and with emergency organizing, Concerned Parents of DPS Special Education distributed a press release and participated in the open comment session at Thursday’s DPS school board meeting, “We request the media shine a spotlight on the disproportionate cuts proposed to special education funding.”
After experiencing deep cuts to special education in 2011 of $3 million, and then additional cuts in 2013 and 2015, parents of students who receive special education services aren’t sure how to manage a school year without the support needed by their children.
Superintendent Tom Boasberg has requested for the upcoming school year a $5 million budget cut, $3.7 million of which would affect special education. Parents of children of differing needs objected, “It is simply unacceptable to force our most vulnerable students to bear 75% of the district wide budget cuts. Every child deserves to succeed in DPS 2020’s Whole Child initiative,” said parent Jeanne Posthumus.
In a recent interview, Boasberg said that instead of the typical funding to Special education, that school psychologists would receive additional funding, “In order to put more resources in our schools to support our special needs students we’ve had to cut some positions at the district level.” Special education parents responded,
“The Superintendent’s statement to the media is misleading. In addition to making cuts to paraprofessional staff, the district’s plan includes a reduction of special education teachers and related service providers such as speech and motor therapists, the very supports and services students with disabilities are entitled to under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), said Pamela Bisceglia, Executive Director of AdvocacyDenver. “DPS’ blanket reductions of staff violate the very essence of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for students with disabilities. Parents fear their children’s civil rights are at risk.”
“It is simply unacceptable to force our most vulnerable students to bear 75% of the district-wide budget cuts. Every child deserves to succeed in DPS 2020’s Whole Child initiative,” said parent Jeanne Posthumus.
While Boasberg claimed that more special education teachers counselors, and psychologists would be funded in schools, parents and schools are reporting cut-backs in Special Education teachers and paraprofessionals as parent Danielle Short explained, “What we think is happening, is more of the special ed funding is now destined to psychologists and social emotional health, and they’re calling that special ed funding. And certainly my son benefits from the psychologist at his school who is going from part-time to full-time this next year with some additional funding that came from somewhere, but he has a right to an Individualized Educational Program, and his individualized need right now, is that he needs a paraprofessional to support him.”
“I have a 7-year-old son with Down Syndrome who is in kindergarten and doing really well with the built-in support that is already there,” said Short who spoke to the school board on Thursday evening. Short has been told that her son will lose his support person next year even though he needs restroom assistance every hour and additional support, “He struggles with transitions, and the lunchroom, the hallways, specials, anything outside of the classroom is kind of overwhelming for him. He sometimes can’t keep his hands to himself. He lashes out just out of frustration. So he needs an adult kind of keeping an eye on him.”
Short’s concerns and those of other parents extended to safety issues as well. “He wanders. He ends up in other parts of the school where he shouldn’t be. So that’s anxiety-producing. So next year he’s going into first grade where there’s not that level of built-in support.” Short said that the standard design for first through third grade is one teacher and a half-time paraprofessional, even though a student’s federally mandated Individual Educational Plan team agrees that her son needs more support.
Short shares concern with other parents in similar situations. Jeanne Posthumus’ sixth grader attends Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS), “She has been in an inclusive education setting since preschool, and she thrives in that setting.”
An “inclusive setting” means that students with special needs are not confined to a special education classroom, or annex, or district, as Short said happened in her school experience. But rather students spend a significant amount of time in the general classroom of their grade, interacting and learning with the general population of students. Both Short and Posthumus say their children have benefited from an inclusive structure. Short added, “And I’m not the only one. Several of the parents who have been here today. That is their story. There are students who are being told that they have to go to a less inclusive educational setting next year because they no longer have that paraprofessional support.”
Students in special education are approximately 10% of the total student population (about 9000 students). With the increased incidence of autism for example, some believe that future district budgets for special education should gradually increase over time, and not experience drastic decreases.
The general population of students would receive benefits as well due to the experience other students would gain in interacting with students who need additional support, as Short believes is the experience of her son’s classroom, “The other kids love him. The other kids’ parent are thrilled that he’s there because they recognize that their children are learning to be more compassionate and more understanding, and are going through life with the diversity of the community.”