What is the difference between a Citywide Autism Program school and a community school?
Schools that are designated as Citywide Autism Programs have special education teachers who are licensed and experienced in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Special education assistants and general education teachers at those schools are also likely to have more knowledge about and experience in working with students with ASD.
Community schools are the schools children would attend according to the lottery system. The changes that are going into effect this school year increase the supports and services for students with autism at community schools.
How will my child’s school placement be determined?
No changes are being made to the process for determining the best placement for an individual student. Special education services will be provided to students as outlined in their individual IEPs, whether that means the student is served at a Citywide Autism Program or in the student’s community school.
When do these changes go into effect?
These changes are now in place. As of July 1st, 2015, all students with autism are required to have a licensed autism teacher or licensed Academic Behavior Strategist (ABS) teacher as a member of his or her IEP team. Based on an individual student’s needs, and with input from the autism or ABS teacher, the IEP team determines the special education services and supports provided to the student.
For schools that do not currently have licensed autism or ABS teachers on staff, we are in the process of hiring three itinerant autism teachers. The role of the itinerant autism teacher will be to serve as a member of the IEP team and to work with general education and special education teachers on implementing evidence-based practices and strategies for students with autism. This may be in the form of direct, indirect or consultative services.
If my child is designated Federal Setting I or II, does that mean he/she is no longer eligible for the Citywide Autism Program?
No. Federal Setting I and II students can be part of the Citywide Autism Program if their IEP determines that is what would best serve the student. Placement is based on the IEP team’s decision regarding the intensity of supports and services needed. However, the federal requirement of providing the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) means that, to the maximum extent appropriate, school districts must educate students with disabilities in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and supports along with nondisabled peers in the school they would attend if not disabled.
Are these changes the results of budget cuts?
No. Budget is not a factor for this program change. Rather, this is driven by the fact that providing inclusive program options is better for certain students. Federal law also states that, to the maximum extent appropriate, school districts must educate students with disabilities in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and supports along with nondisabled peers in the school they would attend if not disabled. The changes to the MPS autism program for the 2015-2016 school year represent a reallocation, not a reduction, of funds.
What kind of training will staff at non-citywide schools receive?
The majority of MPS schools are already successfully providing special education services to students with autism. In addition, we will also be providing schools with three different training options: school-wide trainings, small group trainings through PD/PLCs, and individual teacher trainings/coaching.
Without a dedicated autism room or autism teachers, won't the community schools be ill equipped to handle behavior issues?
All of the incoming kindergartners with autism have been receiving special education services in Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE). The Adaptations section in each student's IEP outlines strategies for both preventing and resolving behavioral challenges. All MPS schools are staffed with special education teachers, and many schools already have sensory spaces that are available to students as needed. Additionally, three itinerant ASD teachers will be providing services and consultation at each school based on student need, including creating sensory spaces at schools that do not already have them, providing direct services to teach the use of strategies, coaching staff on how to use strategies, and providing feedback.
How will a Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT) without autism experience be able to build the trust necessary to effectively work with a student with autism?
Many of our SERTs do have experience with students with autism. Also, building trust and relationships with all students with disabilities is an important part of a SERT's daily work. The amount of service for each student is determined by the sending IEP team, which is made up of people who know the student best.
What about the effect on mainstream students in the community school classrooms?
Students with disabilities bring their talents and skills to each classroom community. Evidenced-based practices are designed to help students with autism regulate their behavior in proactive measures. Additionally, many of the evidence-based strategies used to help students with autism also provide structure and calm to students without disabilities.
Is this really just a way for MPS to phase out the Citywide Autism Program?
No. The Citywide Autism Program will always be available for those students who are best served by it. We believe in and are federally mandated to have a continuum of programming available to our students with disabilities.
What are caseloads going to look like?
Students with autism who are designated federal level I or II are typically provided special education services by a Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT) who has a caseload of 1:20 (or 1:18 at high priority schools).
By sending more students with autism to community schools, aren't we setting them up for failure with this lack of support?
No student at MPS should feel unsupported. Each student with autism has an IEP team that determines the SERT support, ASD teacher support, SEA support and related service support the student will receive. The changes in place this school year represent a shifting of resources, not a reduction.
For the 2015-2016 school year, the majority of kindergarten students will be attending schools that already have Citywide Autism Programs. For schools that do not have Citywide Autism Programs, we will be working directly with staff to determine training plans specific to their school. We will be using a variety of resources (Autism Modules, Metro ECSU, National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder) to provide resources as well as three options of trainings: school-wide trainings, small group trainings through PD/PLCs, and individual teacher trainings/coaching.
What’s really behind this change?
Two things: federal guidelines and a district belief in the efficacy of a more inclusive autism support model.
As per federal guidelines: to the maximum extent appropriate, school districts must educate students with disabilities in regular classrooms with appropriate aids and supports along with their nondisabled peers in the school they would attend if they were not disabled. As a district, we also believe it is important for students to be served in their community school to the greatest extent possible.
Why weren’t ASD teachers and families involved in this decision?
This decision was made by district leadership, with input from the parent-led Special Education Advisory Committee, and in accordance with federal mandate.
Why wasn’t this new program ever officially announced by MPS?
This is not a new program. MPS already has students with autism who are being served in their community schools with success. No changes are being made to the process for determining the best placement for individual incoming students, and students with autism in grades 1 through 12 will continue with their current programs, as outlined in their Individual Education Plans (IEPs). The changes for the 2015-2016 school year represent a shift in resources to ensure there are appropriate supports for students with autism in community schools.