Two D.C. school board members have criticized school officials for planning a summer program for handicapped students without consulting the children's parents to help determine the pupils' needs.
School board member Bob Boyd (Ward 6) and Phyllis E. Young (At Large) quizzed school officials about the new summer program at a meeting of the special education committee last week, which was attended by nearly 100 parents of handicapped children. The parents were not allowed to speak, but some came with signs protesting the lack of parental involvement in the new summer program.
"Parents have to be involved somewhere in the selection process and looking through all this paper work I don't see it written anywhere," Young said to school officials. Young was referring to the new school board policy, adopted last fall, that institutes classes this summer for severely handicapped children, marking the first time that an extended school year will be considered part of the students' right to a public education.
The summer classes are for those students who might lose skills during the summer that they could not relearn during the first 12 weeks of the regular school year. The skills include muscular control, self feeding and communication.
The parents and board members support the summer program but contend that it was not included in the annual Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that is drawn up each year for each handicapped student as required by law. The IEP is developed by parents and teachers who meet and review the child's academic and therapeutic program for the year.
Parents and advocates for the handicapped have charged that the administration's selection procedures for the summer classes were created by a committee of professionals who are unfamiliar with the children, and without parental involvement.
"We are stepping outside the process that was defined in the law to protect the rights of the child," said Young referring to the annual IEP meeting. "And if the reason is just because we need to move quickly to implement this Extended School Year program then something is wrong," she added.
Wilbur A. Millard, associate superintendent for special education, said that to get the program under way, school officials did not have enough time to do a new IEP for each child.
"In view of the fact that the program was designed for this summer, a way had to be found to identify the students at a point in time that was out of cycle with the annual IEP review," Millard told the board members at the meeting.
Millard said that next year's selection will occur as part of the IEP and involve parents.
Boyd said he was "very disappointed that the administration's plans were not done in enough advance time for the IEP."
He added, "The board's policy clearly said that eligibility for the extended school year should be determined as part of the IEP. And the administration is not quite doing that."
"As parents we feel we should be included in every step of the way," said Cheryl Shropshire, who made posters to hold in the meeting that read ESY in IEP.
"But they are making decisions and selections for the summer classes and we aren't told anything. We just keep on guessing," said Shropshire, who has a 10-year-old son in special education.
Doris Woodson, assistant superintendent for special education, said at the meeting that she expects nearly 200 students in the new program, up from 90 that she estimated two weeks earlier.