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PETITION POINT/COUNTERPOINT:
PETITION POINT/COUNTERPOINT:
  • Minneapolis Public Schools is dismantling supports for students with autism and denying them their rights to an appropriate public education.
    • Students with autism in grades 1 through 12 will see no change. They will continue with their current programs, as outlined in their Individual Educational Plans (IEPs).
    • The Citywide Autism Program is not going away. Students whose IEPs determine that they will be best served by the Citywide Autism Program will continue to be served by this program.
  • They are reducing choice and drastically decreasing the quality of education for these students.
    • Students whose IEPs determine that they will be best served by the Citywide Autism Program will continue to be served by this program. The changes to Minneapolis Public Schools’ autism program actually increase choice, as more students with autism will have the option to attend their community school.
  • The Special Education Department is acting behind the backs of families, without input from teachers, and to the great detriment of vulnerable students.
    • This decision was made by district leadership, with input from the parent-led Special Education Advisory Committee, and in accordance with federal mandate. 
       
  • They are restricting access to the highly successful Citywide Autism Program
    • All students whose IEPs determine they would be best served by the Citywide Autism Program will continue to be served by this program, including students who are federal level I or II.
       
  • and substantially diluting support within the program.
    • For the 2015-2016 school year, three Citywide Autism Program classrooms will close, (one each at Burroughs, Folwell, and Jenny Lind). This will bring the total number of Citywide Autism Program classrooms down from 71 to 68.
       
  • They are placing young children with autism in neighborhood schools with alarmingly inadequate supports.
    • Community schools across the district will benefit from increased supports and services for students with autism, including the hiring of three itinerant autism teachers, additional SEA supports, and autism training for community school teachers.
    • Additionally, all of the incoming kindergarten students with autism have had transition meetings with staff at their new schools to discuss programming, and plans have been developed. Each of our students with autism has a licensed autism teacher or Academic Behavior Strategist (ABS) as a member of his/her IEP team as well.  
       
  • The result will be disastrous for mainstream students, students of other disabilities, and especially for students with autism. They risk causing irreparable harm to the children they are supposed to serve.
    • Families in our district have stressed the importance of having a continuum of services, and we agree. To the greatest extent possible, we want our special education services to come to the student, rather than the student having to go to the service. This is why we are providing more inclusive special education services in community schools.
    • Having students receive their special education services in the general education setting benefits both students with and without disabilities. Inclusion provides opportunities for both nondisabled youth and youth with disabilities to navigate childhood together, supported by adults who create space for children to learn and grow together.
       
  • Special Education Officials have repeatedly ignored parents’ concerns; excluded the teachers who know these students best; and misrepresented their plan to families, the school board, the public, and the media. This plan is being implemented with reckless haste, and in every step they are demonstrating a negligent disregard for the needs of children with autism.
    • For the past few years, MPS’ Special Education Department staff members have had discussions with the parent-led Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) on providing more inclusive learning options for all students with disabilities, including students with autism. Both at SEAC and through students’ Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings, which are composed of parents, teachers and the child’s caseworker, MPS has heard that families want program options for their children.
       
  • We ask that Minneapolis Public Schools return to a policy of placement based on individual need, not district mandate.
    • 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 IEPs, whether that means the student is served at a Citywide Autism Program or in the student’s community school.
       
  • We ask that Minneapolis renew its commitment to giving children with autism their rights according to federal law: An appropriate education that provides each student with the supports necessary to function in the least restrictive environment where s/he can make meaningful educational progress.
    • It is partly due to the commitment to this federal law that these changes are being made. These changes will allow more students to attend school in the least restrictive environment and have his/her needs met.
       
  • We ask that IEPs of all incoming students with autism be redone as soon as possible, so IEP teams can recommend the best environment for each child's needs, and families can be correctly informed of the full continuum of services--including a complete and accurate representation of the Citywide Autism Program.
    • We conducted information sessions from November to January this past year with the families of incoming kindergartners, along with their child’s teacher and case manager and/or social worker, to make sure they were fully aware of the options available to them. We have worked with every single family of an incoming kindergartner with autism to ensure they choose the best program for their child, whether it’s a Citywide Autism Program or a community school program.
       
  • We ask that Citywide Autism Program sites that were closed to kindergarteners be re-opened and re-staffed (including, but not limited to Burroughs, Jenny Lind, Folwell, Hale, Marcy, Andersen, and Wenonah).
    • For the 2015-2016 school year, there will be three fewer kindergarten classrooms in the Citywide Autism Program across the district, (one fewer classroom each at Burroughs, Folwell, and Jenny Lind).  
       
  • Incoming families should be invited to tour the schools and meet the Citywide ASD teachers as soon as possible, so these families may make fully-informed choices.
    • Transition meetings to determine IEP goals, objectives, services and supports were held with the families of all 49 incoming kindergartners with autism. These meetings were attended by ECSE staff familiar with the students’ needs, as well as representatives from the receiving schools. Of the 49 incoming students, 26 will be served in the Citywide Autism Program, and 23 will be served at community schools. Special education services will be provided to each of the 49 students as outlined in his/her IEP. For the 23 students who will be attending community schools, staff immediately reviewed where the students had been assigned along with their individual IEPs. Staff then compiled a list of students by site, and used this list to determine where to place the four additional SEAs as well as where the itinerant autism teachers should spend their time. Once the school year begins, teachers will be flexible and respond to students’ demonstrated needs.
       
  • We ask that Early Childhood Special Education classrooms be re-opened and staffed at a level that will allow these preschoolers to receive the intense individualized early intervention they require, and that the program re-opens to all children who need it.
    • The caseload for autism ECSE teachers is increasing to be in line with the caseloads of other ECSE teachers. All ECSE classroom sizes will be 16 (8 in the morning and 8 in the afternoon) regardless of disability label. This will ensure that we are providing equitable services to all of our ECSE students. Our ECSE administrator and ECSE District Program Facilitators (DPFs) will continue to work closely with ECSE classrooms to determine supports and resources based on individual student needs.
    • The Minnesota Administrative Rule for ECSE caseloads states eight students (regardless of disability label), one teacher and one paraprofessional. MPS will continue to staff our ECSE classrooms with one teacher and two paraprofessionals, as well as additional supports as determined by student need. So, even with the increased class size, we will continue to provide additional staffing beyond Minnesota Administrative Rule. With this change in caseload, we will also have the flexibility to lower a class size if student need calls for that.
       
  • We ask that resource teachers at neighborhood schools be fully-trained in autism to better serve the students with ASD who do attend these schools.
    • The district is currently working with individual schools to determine the best professional development (PD) option: whole group, small group, or coaching. It is also worth noting that the district currently has 191 students with autism who are already receiving special education services in their community schools and are doing well.
       
  • We ask for a thorough investigation into the plans, methods, and conduct of the current Special Education administration.
    • As an integral part of Minneapolis Public Schools, the Special Education department is committed to supporting the growth and success of each of our students. The changes enacted this school year are a move to establish a more inclusive autism support model for students with autism. This inclusive model shifts some resources from the Citywide Autism Program to community schools in order to support the needs of students with autism within community schools. We believe that the majority of our students can and should receive special education services at their community schools, including students with autism.
       
  • We ask for a Special Education administration that is committed to evidence-based interventions for autism and all other disabilities—
    • The current Special Education administration is committed to evidence-based interventions. Our itinerant autism teachers, who will provide ongoing coaching to special and regular education teachers, are trained and experienced in evidence-based practices for working with students with ASD.  
       
  • One that values the experience and knowledge of teachers, respects families, is committed to honesty and transparency, and, above all, puts the needs of the children they are supposed to be serving before all else.
    • Our initial communication regarding these changes could have been more clear and detailed. We are committed to moving forward with transparency and candor. We would also like to emphasize that the driving force behind this program change was simply to meet the needs of our current and incoming student population and to ensure that our educators are equipped with the skills they need to help our students thrive.

FEDERAL REQUIREMENTS FOR REFERENCE:

Sec. 300.114 LRE requirements.

(a) General.

( 1) Except as provided in Sec. 300.324(d)(2) (regarding children with disabilities in adult prisons), the State must have in effect policies and procedures to ensure that public agencies in the State meet the LRE requirements of this section and Sec. Sec. 300.115 through 300.120.

(2) Each public agency must ensure that--

(i) To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and

(ii) Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

(b) Additional requirement--State funding mechanism.

(1) General. (i) A State funding mechanism must not result in placements that violate the requirements of paragraph (a) of this section; and

(ii) A State must not use a funding mechanism by which the State distributes funds on the basis of the type of setting in which a child is served that will result in the failure to provide a child with a disability FAPE according to the unique needs of the child, as described in the child's IEP.

(2) Assurance. If the State does not have policies and procedures to ensure compliance with paragraph (b)(1) of this section, the State must provide the Secretary an assurance that the State will revise the funding mechanism as soon as feasible to ensure that the mechanism does not result in placements that violate that paragraph.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(5) )

Regulations: Part 300 / B / 300.116

In determining the educational placement of a child with a disability, including a preschool child with a disability, each public agency must ensure that--Sec. 300.116 Placements.

(a) The placement decision--

(1) Is made by a group of persons, including the parents, and other persons knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options; and

(2) Is made in conformity with the LRE provisions of this subpart, including Sec. Sec. 300.114 through 300.118;

(b) The child's placement--

(1) Is determined at least annually;

(2) Is based on the child's IEP; and

(3) Is as close as possible to the child's home;

(c) Unless the IEP of a child with a disability requires some other arrangement, the child is educated in the school that he or she would attend if nondisabled;

(d) In selecting the LRE, consideration is given to any potential harmful effect on the child or on the quality of services that he or she needs; and

(e) A child with a disability is not removed from education in age-appropriate regular classrooms solely because of needed modifications in the general education curriculum.