Lt. Governor Brian Calley announced that the executive budget recommendation coming Wednesday would include new funds to implement portions of the Special Education Task Force report he unveiled to the State Board of Education at its meeting Tuesday.
The funds – Mr. Calley declined to say how much – would allow the Department of Education to add staff in its Office of Special Education to encourage districts to adopt positive behavioral support programs.
“Within the Office of Special Education, I would like them to have the resources and staff to develop positive systems of support,” he said.
That, in turn, would allow more schools to move to using seclusion and restraint only for emergency purposes rather than for behavior control as many do now.
The change would also save districts money by allowing them to concentrate on educating students rather than disciplining them, he said.
“We give kids access to the world by helping them develop more appropriate behaviors,” he said.
The task force’s recommendations not only will improve special education, but will also work into the Top 10 in 10 plan to improve overall educational performance in the state, Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Whiston said.
Mr. Calley also called on the department to revise its rulemaking process to include more input up front.
The task force was developed in response to heavy backlash from parents to proposed changes to special education rules. Department officials had argued the changes were designed to comply with federal rule changes, but parents read them as allowing local districts to restrict or deny services.
Under the Administrative Procedures Act, public comment is taken after the rules have been developed. “What we really want to do is flip that over,” Mr. Calley said. “That will create better rules in the first place or at least rules that are more aligned with the people involved.”
He said the department could do that on its own by calling for public comment when rule changes are proposed rather than needing and changes to the APA to force the change.
Using positive systems of support follows the overall theme of the report to make special education, and education overall, more child-centered, Mr. Calley said. While special education students all have an individualized education plan to specify the services to be provided, he said that plan is often based on guidelines rather than needs.
“Build services around a kid instead of having a diagnosis with a predetermined set of services,” he said should be the process. “The concept is simply increasing the intensity of services as the needs increase.”
He said his ultimate goal would be to eliminate special education as a separate program.
Board member Lupe Ramos-Montigny (D-Grand Rapids) echoed Mr. Calley’s call for more merging of special and general education. “It should be one umbrella and the special education and the general education working together with the teacher to be that catalyst,” she said. “It is beautiful when you put all of the students together to advance them in their education.”
To make that happen, he said, the colleges and universities that teach teachers would have to revise their programs to ensure teachers know how to integrate disparate students into their classes.
When there are disagreements over the services to provide a student, Mr. Calley said the department has to develop a new dispute resolution system.
“I was really amazed that mediation was an option,” he said of his own experience in getting special education services for his daughter, who has autism.
He urged developing more awareness of the availability of mediation, but he said the task force also called for development of a special panel of mediators.
“It is very dynamic and very complicated,” he said of the mediation process. “If we could have a cadre of mediators specialized in these issues.”
He also called for changes that would allow parents and schools to represent themselves in the process.
“When lawyers get involved, it creates a barrier to communication,” he said. “Everybody is more guarded.”
The task force recommended an annual gathering of the various interests to work out some of those potential conflicts ahead of time.