Changes to De Soto USD 232 special-ed questioned by parent
The De Soto USD 232 Early Childhood Special Education Program will take on a different look next year but the decision isn’t settling well with some parents.
The program will not longer support lead teachers in the classroom. Instead, licensed special education teachers will take over lead teacher duties.
Under the new model, classrooms will feature one special education teacher and a para-educator. The current model features a lead teacher, para-educator and a licensed special education teacher, who meets one-on-one with students with special needs.
In all, five lead teachers are being eliminated from the program. And their responsibilities will be shifted to the special education teachers.
Shay Janssen, who has a son in the program, said she was concerned about the implementation of individual education plans developed for special-ed students.
“I don’t think my child’s IEP will not be met,” she said. “Because if you take that lead teacher out then the special education teacher can not work one-on-one with the children with IEPs anymore, because she’ll be the lead teacher now.”
Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said the ratio of students to teachers would remain the same in the program.
“The important piece is that licensed personnel has the responsibility to create lesson plans for the students,” she said.
Susan Sipe, district special services director, said the changes came about to make the program more efficient, not as a budget issue.
“We were really charged with looking at efficiencies and gathering data from other districts this year,” she said.
But the job cuts have some district representatives wondering why the changes weren’t discussed prior to staff being notified.
Sipe said the lead teachers could be placed as para-educators in the district.
“We would make every effort to find them a position in the district as a para-educator,” Sipe said.
Janssen said she wondered what would motivate parents to enroll children without IEPs to in the program.
“Why would some parents want to send their child to preschool where the only teacher is a special education teacher?” she said. “You wouldn’t get the peer students in the classroom.”
The current program provides for “role models,” a term for typically developing students in the classroom. The program description refers to this as inclusive learning.
“When other districts look at our school district and see how the program is set up and say it’s an outstanding program that we should not be cutting services back and when it’s not a budget issue, it’s now that we are going to become sub-par in our services,” Janssen said.
Sipe said no other districts had contacted her about De Soto’s program.
Staff at Countryside Learning Center was notified Feb. 24 of the changes. However, the Board of Education members were not notified until Feb. 25 when they received a memo of the changes in their board packets for the March 2 meeting. Even after receiving the packets, board members were not able to open that particular memo. A new file was sent the Thursday after the meeting.
Janine Gracy, board member, said it was difficult as a board member to address concerns of constituents before she knew about the changes.
“If there is restructuring or changes, major changes like that, emailing the board packet is not going to do it for me,” she said. “We need to know a little more about the philosophy behind the changes. If they can prove the changes are needed and it’s based on sound research that is acceptable, but don’t catch me off guard.”
Sipe said the staff was notified before the board because she felt they should know before information came out in public.
According to the memo to the board, the changes will save the district between $45,000 and $55,000, the difference between lead teacher and para-educator salaries.
Zoellner said the changes were not a budget issue but the district was always looking for ways to save money.
Gracy said the program had a lot of community buy-in and support, but making continuous changes could hurt the programs community relations.
“When you change the location from Countryside to Horizon and back to Countryside, it puts hardships on families. We have to be a little more cautious and careful.”
Sipe said the relocation of the program over the years was a result of space issues in the district.
Gracy said it was important to get input from parents in the program.
“We have to work on that relationship, understanding that parents know that their kids respond to in that classroom,” she said.