Special education services at Dearborn Public Schools are moving forward as expected this year after a plethora of administrative and services designed to save money and streamline programs were put into place.
“We have focused a lot of time and energy into what’s going on in the classrooms,” Michael Shelton, the district’s director of special education, told the Board of Education at a recent meeting.
Special education services in Dearborn cover students with varying degrees of ability; many attend special programs exclusively, while others attend conventional classes for part, or all, of the day.
Currently, DPS educates about 2,000 special education students.
A place, not just a service
Last year, because of a desire to streamline and improve the special education environment, the district implemented some staffing changes, and began to explore options for limiting the number of students who have been bussed to other districts for specialized services.
Currently, the district offers six center programs, including autism spectrum disorder, hearing impaired, severely cognitively impaired, moderately cognitively impaired, physically impaired, severely multiply impaired. Not all students that are in special education programs require center-based services, however, and the decision to place a child in a center program is made after an evaluation to determine the best course for the student.
“The idea of having center programs is so smaller districts can have a higher level of service,” said Shelton.
This year, the district has been able to bring 50 students back into the Dearborn fold who used to endure long bus rides to others schools, Shelton said.
Several other changes are also underway, or afoot.
Comprehensive literacy programs and changes to federal guidelines for all students have helped the district remove some children from the special education classification. Currently, about 10 percent of the district’s students are receiving special education instruction. Michigan’s average is 13.5 percent.
Also, the district is implementing consistency standards regarding student evaluations that focus on needs, early intervention and educational progress at each school.
“We worked hard to make sure we had consistency at each building,” Shelton said.
Staff realignments for the 2012-13 school year included several transfers of educators. Two years ago, teacher consultants were split between two facilities, and today, each elementary school has a one consultant. Larger elementary buildings have one, plus a half-time consultant, Shelton said.
Certificate of completion students are not working at grade-level, Shelton said.
“We modified the curriculum for students that are cognitively impaired ... who cannot follow the Michigan Merit curriculum," he explained. "They’re working at grade-level; we just pull out the big ideas spend more time one them.”
Shelton’s staff is also looking at introducing the TOTE, or Teach Our Tots Early, which serves children up to age three. In Wayne County, this program is located at Woodhaven Schools.
Funding and suggestions
Currently, Dearborn Schools receives $12 million in Act 18 funds, which is a millage approved to offset local costs of providing special education at area schools.
It was believed initially that these funds would run out in 2013. However, if Personal Property Tax legislation that would reduce or eliminate taxes paid by businesses, the funds should last until 2017, Shelton said.
Trustee Pamela Adams said that she “really applauds some of the changes."
"But I’m just curious about how many Dearborn students are still being sent out," she added. "Are the majority considering programs here, or a lot of them the same disability?”
Shelton said that about 120 students are being sent out to other programs this year, and that his staff is doing its best to try to keep students in district.