Special education changes raises questions in USD 232
De Soto USD 232’s 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 no 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 taken out of the program. And their responsibilities will be shifted to the special education teachers.
Shay Janssen has a son in the program.
“I don’t think my child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) will not be met,” she said. “Because if you take that lead teacher out, then the special education teacher cannot 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, director of special services, 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 loss of jobs have some district representatives wondering why the changes weren’t discussed prior to staff being notified.
Sipe said the lead teachers could land another job 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 the draw would be for parents with children without IEPs.
“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 “role models” – typically developing students in the classroom. The program description refers to this as inclusive learning.
“When other districts look at our school districts 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 its not a budget issue, it’s now that we are going to become subpar in our services.”
Sipe said no other districts had contacted her about De Soto’s program.
Staff at Countryside Learning Center was notified of the changes on Feb. 24. However, the Board of Education was not notified until Feb. 25 when members received a memo of the changes in advance of the March 2 meeting. Some board members, however, were not able to open that particular memo, so new file was sent on Thursday.
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, e-mailing 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 prior to 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 program’s 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.