Adopt Safeguards to Defend Special Education at GRPS

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In 2017, there have been many changes and situations (listed below) which, in TOTAL, signal the downward slide of special education at Grand Rapids Public Schools (hereinafter, “GRPS”).  Therefore, these safeguards for a greater transparency, a townhall, and a greater voice for parents and community stakeholders are essential.  There is also a request that the Board of Education members visit the special needs schools and programs quarterly.  

In 2017, there have been many changes which affect the quality of special education.  We are greatly concerned that these changes and results appear to signal the dismantling of special education in West Michigan’s largest public school, the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  Special education appears to be reduced to its bare bones.   

  1. Denying ESY (extended school year or yearlong school) to the many students with severe autism who desperately need it.  The students at the center-based schools of Lincoln, Lincoln Developmental Center, and Pine Grove qualified for these schools based upon the severity of their disabilities.  Last summer, GRPS denied ESY to a significant portion of students with severe autism for the first time.  Many families who were denied did not have skilled and experienced advocates to represent them during IEP meetings with the schools throughout the school year. 
  2. Closing a transitional school (which serve students with special needs from age 18-26 years old).  GRPS closed Kent Vocational Options (KVO) without giving families and the community an opportunity to voice their concerns before making this major decision. Moreover, the ramifications include one school facility which cannot adequately accommodate students who have physical disabilities or challenges.   
  3. Transferring a special needs preschool program:  GRPS closed the Kenosha special needs preschool program at Van Auken and transferred and consolidated it with the Campus Early Childhood Center at Thomas Street (Kenosha Campus). 
  4.  We are also very concerned that, in September 2017, GRPS is somehow short over 30 special education teachers.  One special needs school, KEC Oakleigh, does not have a principal and only 2 of the 9 teachers from last year have returned.  We are also concerned about GRPS’ ability to hire qualified special education teachers.   
  5. We are also concerned that less students now qualify for special education, even though the number of students medically diagnosed with a disability has increased.  Furthermore, the students who have a high functioning disability, such as ADHD, are often and unfortunately denied special education, an IEP or Section 504.  They too have a disability and require accommodations.   
  6. Students who are in the Moderately Cognitively Impaired and the Autism Spectrum Disorder programs at the GRPS high school are currently changing teachers and classrooms many weeks after the school year has begun.  Finding details (transparency) for this unusual change is a challenge. 

Therefore, to prevent the dismantling of special education at GRPS, we ask that GRPS adopt the following safeguards and measures: 

  1. GRPS and its Board will zealously protect its students with disabilities.
  2. GRPS and its Board will maintain and improve special education services and programs for its students with disabilities. 
  3. *** Each GRPS Board Member should visit a classroom in a special education program or school quarterly.      
  4. GRPS and its Board will be fully transparent in informing its families and its community stakeholders of any proposal which may significantly cut, alter, or close any special education programs, services, or schools.  It should do so “before” it makes any decision for a major or significant change.
  5. GRPS and its Board will ensure that the Board, the families, and the community stakeholders fully understand the impact and ramifications of any proposal for a major change which affects special education services and programs, “before” any decision for a major or significant change is made
  6.  GRPS and its Board will ensure that the families and community stakeholders are fully engaged and are given the opportunity to voice their concerns and have their voice fully heard and their concerns fully considered, before any decisions for a major or significant change is made.
  7. *** GRPS and its Board will ensure a quarterly town hall meeting for students, parents, guardians, and community stakeholders (who are care about students with special needs and are concerned about the state of special education and its effect on the city of Grand Rapids and West Michigan).  This meeting should have an impartial moderator.
  8.  GRPS and its Board will make a commitment to zealously advocate for students with disabilities to ensure that their education improves their future, including but not exclusively:  the ability to work, to volunteer, and to become a productive member of society.

We believe that the state of special education is an important community issue.  It affects both the families of students with disabilities and the reputation of Grand Rapids.  Since we desire that Grand Rapids be a welcoming, caring, and open-minded cosmopolitan city, we are vigilant in protecting students with disabilities and preventing the dismantling of special education. 

Moreover, since GRPS is the largest public school in West Michigan, it is also the leader in either quality special education or the downward slide of special education in West Michigan.  Also, since GRPS is in the U.S. Secretary of Education’s backyard of West Michigan, what happens to special education in GRPS will set a precedence for the quality of special education throughout the United States. 

[The mission of the A-TEAM: Disability & Community Coalition is: to advocate for the best interest of individuals with disabilities, to actively utilize our collective resources, to collaborate, and to empower individuals and their families to ensure that their education improves their present quality of life and their future.]



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