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District plans to focus on inclusion, transitions

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Brenda Taylor is the School District’s associate superintendent of specialized services. She heads an office whose responsibilities include special education, behavioral health, school health, and prevention/intervention programs. She was interviewed by Notebook contributing writer Shani Adia Evans about plans for the new school year.

Notebook: Are there any important changes in special education laws and policies that families should know about?

Brenda Taylor: Parents should be aware of our focus on supporting our students in the general education environment. IEP teams [who draw up each student’s Individualized Education Program] are going to be developing programs that use supplemental aids and resources to enable students with disabilities to receive their instruction with their general education peers.

This practice is consistent with the requirements of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

We are also focused on transitions and the supports students need to be successful from pre-school to kindergarten, from middle school to high school, and from high school to post-secondary opportunities.

We’ve introduced a strategies guide, which is a companion to the core curriculum and helps general education and special education teachers understand the level of accommodations and strategies that are needed for diverse learning populations to access the core curriculum and be successful.

Are there any ways that the budget cuts will affect services this year?

Whenever you’re cutting budgets, you make the assumption – if it’s an educational institution – that the cuts will affect the direct services to our students. But we’re going to do everything we can with the shortage of staff to make sure that our children get the level of supports that they need.

There won’t necessarily be fewer teaching staff, but there may be fewer support staff.

What changes in services might families see from there being eight School District regional offices instead of 12?

I don’t believe there is going to be a significant change in services as a result of that. For the most part, it’s the same number of students and the same staff.

Families may have to become familiar with a new person in the region providing the support, but that same level of support should be there.

Will any regional office positions be eliminated?

There may not be as many case managers in a region, but there will still be case managers in each region.

At each regional level, there is a special education director, and there are case managers and an autistic support manager to support parents. The same level of support is also available at the central office.

Does the Office of Specialized Services have any new initiatives this school year?

We have a focus on least restrictive environments and also on transition at all levels from the early intervention programs to school-age programs. We’re providing parent summits on transition. We’re going to do them regionally so that parents don’t have to go out of their regions to get support and training. We’re going to also do sessions on transitions at the high school fair.

We’re looking at the early intervention transition of students with IEPs from the middle school to the high school and helping to prepare them by giving them that level of support that they’ll need to be successful in the high school setting. We’re working with the seventh and eighth grade population of students and teachers to look at how to best support them for the high school environment. More inclusionary opportunities at the seventh and eighth grade levels mean that when they get into the high schools there is more opportunity for them to transition from class to class to meet their needs.

Do you have any suggestions for parents interested in getting involved with improving special education?

We would advise parents to join the local Right to Education Taskforce. We have monthly meetings and we’ll get that information out on our web page. We have an autistic support parents’ focus group that meets monthly, facilitated by Mr. Joseph Pardini.

Parents should expect to hear more about our resources and support this fall on “OSS Focus.” That’s a new television show on PSTV 52, the School District’s cable channel.

Parents should call 215-400-6065 for more information. General questions can be referred to 215-400-4170.

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