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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Roundtable Addresses Special Education Services

Professor Linda Hickson moderated a roundtable discussion on redesigning the delivery of special education services as part of CEO & I's "Whirlwind Wednesday" on November 5.

Rebecca Cort, New York City Regional Coordinator of Special Education Quality Assurance for the New York State Education Department, gave the initial presentation, addressing issues such as classification, placement, funding, and standards.

She noted that the system encourages school districts to classify students as learning disabled in order to get money to help those students, but that districts don't realize those services don't have to be in a separate environment. The State is interested in changing the funding formula to allow districts to benefit by reducing the number of inappropriately classified students. The money the districts save would be used for at-risk students in general education classes.

The goal is to have more students in general education, even if only for part of the day, and avoid inappropriate placement of minorities or non-English-speaking students into special education programs. By increasing placement in regular classes and increasing parental involvement, Cort says the Board of Regents wants "to have youngsters with disabilities perform at the same level as their peers." They want changes to be in place by 1999.

The roundtable panel included parents, teachers and school administrators. Among the participants were Professor Robert Kretschmer and Professor Stephen Peverly of the Psychology and Education Program at TC, as well as Gay Culverhouse, the Director of Cooke Center for Learning and Development and a TC Trustee.

Neil Wasserman, the Supervising Principal of District 75 in New York City, was also a member of the panel. His district, which spans the five boroughs, is Citywide Programs for Students with Severe Disabilities, and serves 18,000 students with the most severe disabilities that community districts cannot handle themselves. While District 75 assigns children with special needs to regular classes or regular school buildings whenever possible, they place some students who require special education services in segregated buildings that provide accessibility that many public schools cannot provide.

The panel discussion of the issues raised by Cort included a debate on whether to include special education children in regular education classes as a means of socialization. Professor Kretschmer commented that, "The bureaucracy is well-intentioned, but couched in structural ways of dealing with disabilities and major changes. You can't retrain teachers in that short amount of time."

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