Parents of special education students turned out Tuesday night at the District 65 school board meeting in Evanston to complain about planned cuts in the number of teacher aides.

Tim Duggan said his son, a student at King Lab, needs an aide to keep him from imminent danger.

“It’s unfortunate that our children require this expensive help,” Duggan said, “but the district has legal obligation to serve my son.”

He said his son “is making academic and social progress, and I don’t want to lose that.”

Jill Calian, a parent and lawyer who handles special education issues, said it appeared the district was inappropriately pre-determining the needs of incoming students and slashing a third or a quarter of al lthe aide positions.

School Superintendent Hardy Murphy said that assertion was simply false.

School Superintendent Hardy Murphy.

Murphy said the district now has 141 aides, and the planned reduction of 10 aides is caused by the scheduled graduation an unusually large group of 8th graders who require the services of aides.

“There’s no way the district is going to break the law,” Murphy said. If the student’s individualized education program calls for an aide, the student will have an aide.

“Please, let’s not create hysteria with misinformation,” he added.

Board member Kim Weaver said she appreciated that the parents appeared to speak. “Maybe some misinformation came out,” Weaver said.

The parents were responding to a new financial projection from the district staff that included the reduction in the number of aides as part of cost-saving strategies for next year.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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    1. The so-called misinformation

      This is from an article in the Roundtable on Board Finance committee meeting:

      "Dr. Murphy listed 31 positions that would be eliminated next year to achieve the $3 million in savings for 2012-13: certified staff (2 positions); reductions due to program design (8); non-certified support staff (3.5); central office administration (3); instructional support aides for students with an IEP (10); dual-language support aides (6); technical support (0.5); and building administration (1)."

  1. Now if only they actually served special ed students …

    I'm friends with two families that need special education services for their children in District 65.  Both eventually had to lawyer-up in order to get the district to provide the services their children need.  Mr. Murphy might not be breaking the law by reducing staffing, but I'm also guessing that it's going to be 10% harder to get the disctrict to recognize a special ed student.

    There's a difference between 'serving student needs' and 'begrudingly serving student needs'.

  2. Program design changes= cuts to special education programming

    Mr. Murphy also does not clarify what "reductions due to program design" really means.  What this means is that kids who might have been educated in Park School with special education classrooms are now being mainstreamed to regular classes across the district.    The aides are needed to support these kids to make the inclusion model work.   Cutting 10 aides is not to be taken lightly.

    It is very expensive to keep a child outplaced in Park School, or any other special ed. school.  Cheaper to bring them back.  Cheaper yet to cut the aides and special teachers that help the kids.

    Hardy Murphy needs to go.

  3. Inclusion is here to stay and the support staff should be too!

    Inclusion at D65 was rolled out in a hasty fashion several years ago.  Teachers in the district found out their room would be an inclusion room just couple weeks before school began.  Parents were told inclusion would start in only Kindergarten for that first year and expand to the other grades in subsequent years.  There was supposed to be an additional, full-time Special Ed teacher in the Kindergarten class and an aide if indicated on a child's IEP.   We were told as the kids got older and inclusion was introduced into the higher grades, the team teaching model would be scaled back.  With the idea (I assume) that if kids get the early intervention they need, there will be less need for additional support as time goes on. 

    As often happens with this administration, this isn't what we got.  After the first year there was no more full-time special ed teacher in the Kindergarten.  They were now split 1/2 day between Kindergarten and 1st grade.  An aide would be in the class when the additonal teacher was not.  Aides have very little training and so are in no way a replacement for the 1/2 time teacher.   They are considered support staff and no formal early childhood education is required.

    Now Dr. Murphy wants to weaken this last line of support for our overworked teachers.  If your child has ever been in a class where there is even 1 child with ongoing behavioral or learning issues that isn't receiving the appropriate amount of support you know how disruptive it is for ALL the children in the room and how difficult it is for the teacher.

    I find it disgusting that this is how Murphy finds it acceptable to balance the budget.  I think that if you are an involved, informed parents that makes a stink, your child will continue to get what they need in terms of special services and support.  However, many of the children in D65 who are in need of these services don't always have families that know how to advocate for them.  This is how it's been for as long as I can remember.  It's so unfortunate that this is the case in this relatively wealthy, highly educated community.  When kids with IEP's aren't getting what they need it effects ALL our children. 

    Why we are having a conversation about  building a new school when we can't get it right with what we have now is beyond me.  I hope people consider writing, calling, attending board meetings to voice their dissent!

  4. Less experience / less support

    Recognizing that there are less IEPs now that RtI is in place, doesn't reduce the needs that must be met by the schools – it just reduces the needs they are legally obligated to meet.

    Not only is the district reducing the number of support for kids with learning differences – it's also reducing the experience of the teaching staff.

    Workforce reduction should happen based upon quality.   By offering early retirement packages, the district encouraged the departure of experienced teachers to be replaced by less expensive, less experienced teachers.

    The Roundtable stated the following "The $3 million reduction for 2012-13 is due in part to a high number of teachers – 28 so far – electing to take early retirement, said Dr. Murphy. The early retirements enable the District to replace senior teachers with less experienced teachers at lower salary levels.

    Couple that with less support staff, and your likely to have a few tough years while these young teachers learn  how to work with kids who access education in a different manner than they were taught at school.

    So – while the district is claiming parents are over reacting – I think otherwise.   This district is not know for it's responsiveness to children with special needs – and now they are looking to reduce both staff experience and student support – all in the name of a balanced budget.

    I can't imagine what will be cut to fund operating expenses if the referrendum passes.


  5. Instructional Assistants must be valued

    I am the Director of Evanston Citizens for Appropriate Special Education (CASE) and I informed parents about the coverage in the RoundTable indicating the proposed cut of 10 instructional assistants as a cost savings measure.

    Until the night of the Board meeting, there was no public information available that clarified that this cut was "due to attrition" as Dr. Murphy so forcefully pointed out at the meeting.  He attacked us for speaking based on the facts we had, accused us of spreading false information and creating hysteria.  I can assure you that all of us spoke in measured tones, with the facts we had at the time.  There was no hysteria.  Many members of Evanston CASE wrote emails to the school board expressing their concern based on the information available to the public at the time.

    My only regret in speaking about this publically is that I didn't pick up the phone and ask the Director of Special Services, Joyce Bartz, to clarify the situation for me.  Ms. Bartz is a caring and responsive professional who has the best interest of children with special needs in the district at heart.  My concern as Director of CASE was that she was being pressured to come up with budget cuts in her department and that our advocacy could provide her with needed back up.

    It is always difficult to speak in public about something you believe.  I would have preferred it if Dr. Murphy had calmly corrected us, rather than accusing us of creating hysteria.  We all make mistakes, including him.  I suggest the people attend the finance committee meetings in order to keep an eye on the facts as presented by the Adminisration.

  6. Murphy’s dislike of the community

    It is so disturbing how the superintedent who supposedly works to serve the community seems to dislike us so intensely. The parents who spoke were calm and spoke to the facts released by Dr M himself. The "misinformation" was really a failure to communicate effectively and clearly by Dr M. Additionally I have spoken to community members on the finance task force who say this kind of "haircut" approach was not the only option and that some options raised were never followed up.

  7. Solution – Hire Interns!

    Apparently, D65 is planning to balance the budget by not hiring paid staff at all but instead are looking for interns for important positions like School Psychologist and Social Worker.

    What's next, following Newt Gingrich's suggestion and having the students work as janitors?

    1. Interns to “assist” in the work versus “to learn” the craft

      Wow.  While it's very common to have social work and psych interns in schools, the purpose is for these people to learn, not to "assist"  in the work, as these postings state in D65. 

      By contrast to MBix's links to the job description, compare the wording in a post for a social work intern for New Trier- http://k12jobspot.com/Jobs/?ID=26368

      It is also uncommon for a district the size of D65 to take on two psych. interns at the same time.  The school psychologist is one of the most important people in determining special ed. placement in a school.  Supervising an intern requires extra time, as it is illegal for an intern to do any "work" or write up any reports without such certified supervision.

      The Special Ed parents have every right to be concerned, as should every other parent in D65.

  8. TAs

    Dr. Murphy is correct no student who's IEP calls for an aide will go without one.  Yeah, right!  A student in my child's class finally got his aide 2 weeks ago, even though he walked into D65 in Sept with a full blown IEP that specified an aide.

    The parents finally cornered the principal and then gave up and went to Dr. Robey for help.  Surprise! An aide appeared within a few days.

    Why do parents need to bager the administration to get what their child needs?  Why are special ed teachers told to cut down the minutes of service on a child's IEP? Inclusion doesn't work.  My child comes home sharing how violent students throw things, hit others, scream and yell in outbursts, disturbing other classes and students trying to learn in their own classroom.

    I am worried about the effects of these students' behavior on the general education students.  I am also worried and concerned for these inclusion students. Are they getting the best education possible?

    I have no problem with these students being in a general education classroom, but I want it done right with all the services necessary, where both groups of students receive the best education possible.  I also worry about teachers and their feelings about inclusion. 

    1. Right to worry about effects on your reg. ed child

      Speaking as a collegue of several tenured special educators and regular educators who left D65, I can tell you that they see that Hardy Murphy doesn't put children's needs first. Many of those who try to battle this injustice (and lose to Murphy's iron fist) who are not financially strapped to the district leave.   

      Hardy Murphy cares about test scores, so that he can sell the idea of excellence across schools to the parents in this community.

      He takes away all power from special educators to make decisions that are best for kids- as in who can qualify for extra help, how much help children can receive.  He gives people cut-off scores, and strict minute guidelines.  ONly parents who show up with lawyers, ready to fight, get what is best for their kids.  It's cheaper to give in that to go to due process.    This is not what is best for all special education kids.

      You are also right to be concerned about the effects of special education students  on the general classroom.  Listen to what your children are saying to you, and don't sweep your concerns under the rug.  What your child is saying does happen. 

      Could you learn if the child next to you kept doing these things? What if the teacher (due to lack of assistance) had to keep stopping the lesson to deal with a disruptive child?   WHo can learn if the teacher can't teach?

    2. District-wide Theme

      What you describe happens in different classrooms all over the district.  The travesty is that in a town that has one of the highest per student spending stats in the state, parents quite literally need to scream and "lawyer up" to get what your kid needs on their IEP.  This has been an issue in D65 as long as I can remember–I've been in the district for 10+ years.  Now that inclusion is here the gen ed parents are seeing the unfortunate effects of this poor policy.

      The tragedy is that, as you said, ALL are negatively impacted.  In addition, I get the sense that those in charge rest comfortably on the fact that many children in D65 don't have an advocate.  They enter school needing IEPs, but never get one OR take forever to get one and then thier parent is unsure how to advocate for their child, the service delivery can be inadequate. 

      There are school board members who are keenly aware that inclusion is not going well.  I hope that parents continue to speak up loudly about this.  I think writing letters on sites like EvanstonNow is great and gets discussions going, but the superintendent and the board need to hear directly from us.

      Send an email or two or three.  Go to a board meeting if you can.  Call everyday and leave a message about your disappointment in the system.  I know there are many people that do this already, but if more would do the same I think we'd be harder to ignore.  It would also help like-minded board members feel like they have community support.


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