A preschool classroom in West Hartford.

I recently had the opportunity to review Gov. Ned Lamont’s Transition Policy Committee Reporting Template which is available here.

As part of his transition plan Lamont, the Education Committee and the Planning & Development Committee have drafted numerous bills regarding regionalization of our schools.  Although language has been updated to the Governor’s Bill 874 to remove the words “redistricting” and “consolidation” to “sharing” and “collaboration” the bill still imposes deadlines for data collection of all of our districts and does not specify whether the decisions of this Commission on Shared School Services will be subject to a vote by the legislature or will be written into law with no input from those who it will directly affect.

All of this is a particular threat to those of us with children in special education.  As the parent of two, young, special education students and being a School Psychologist I was perplexed, disheartened and frankly offended by the language within the Governor’s Transition Policy regarding Special Education.  It reads:

State Management of Special Education – More than any other cost, Special Education is recognized as the most volatile and costly burden on local taxpayers.  While many aspects of these services may still be offered through local school districts and teachers, the cost and volatility of these services can be driven downward through:

-Statewide cost standards for all outplacement facilities

-Coordination of transportation and other services through the RESCs

-Reversal of the regulatory “burden of proof” standards in contested IEP cases, consistent with 40 other states

-Exploration of a “Reinsurance Fund” among school districts that would stabilize annual budgets.

As I start to dissect what these statements mean for me on a personal and professional level I will begin by making it clear that I don’t appreciate my children’s education being referred to as “[a] volatile and costly burden on local taxpayers.”

My children and the children I have the pleasure to work with are amazing and each able to bring their special contributions to us and the world.  Reducing them to a fiscal red mark is an attack on the special needs community.  According to Autism Speaks there are now 1 in 59 children born with autism and this number continues to rapidly increase.  Trying to cut corners with regard to their education will do nothing but place a heavier burden financially down the line.  Studies support early intervention as having the best long-term outcomes for developing skills necessary to becoming independent adults.

Looking for methods to reduce costs is reasonable, but not if it results in a reduction or decline in quality of services.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  If transferring “other services” to RESCs means that supports will be provided more often through outplacement we certainly are not meeting the child’s needs of an education provided within their least restrictive environment.

LRE is not only important to give our special education students access to their typical peers but to have them continue to take pride in their school and their community.  To attend with neighborhood children who they see at local events, to share the school bus with their siblings and friends, to not force upon them the idea that they are “different” and therefore less than.

I believe the Governor’s Transition Policy and Bill 874 may be intentionally vague as to not have people like myself who are in the field poke holes through these theories from an educational perspective.  The amount of services a special education student receives is based on need, not on cost.  We are not meeting FAPE or doing our children justice if we are looking at it from any other perspective.

I implore other parents of special education students and special education staff to ask questions and demand answers.  Our most vulnerable are at risk when special education becomes nothing more than their bottom line.

Jennifer Colello lives in Trumbull and works as a school psychologist.

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