I want to fill in some details about the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee meeting on Monday. Three members of the Special Education staff, including the chief of that department, Ms McWilliams, presented the Board with the program placements for Special Ed for 2014-2015. At that time they described the status of the implementation of the new Special Education system. Their presentation and conversation was almost impossible to follow. It was filled with meaningless jargon and self contradictions. For example, they would say that there are no more Special Education programs anymore, and then, in the same breath, talk about Special Education programs. Then, in the next breath, they would say how important it is to use the right words for things. In fact, for all of their talk about creating systemic change in Special Education, the only examples of change that they gave were changes to the names of the programs, because words are so important, and there are no programs any more, and here are the new names and sites for those programs. It made my head spin - I'm glad it didn't explode.
In this confusing swirl it didn't dawn on me until just now that they have determined the program placements in April. Aren't those decisions supposed to be made before Open Enrollment? Yes, they are. Aren't they important facts that BLTs should have when setting a school budget? Yes, they are. Aren't they critical bits of information necessary when trying to create a master schedule? Yes again. No one bothered to mention or ask about that during the Committee meeting. These decisions are a bit late and they are going to create chaos.
I'll tell what was asked at the meeting. The Board Directors directly asked Ms McWilliams and her colleagues about community engagement. They were told that the community - both the Advisory Committe and the Special Education PTA - were completely informed and onboard with the plan and that they were, in fact, active participants in it. Funny thing: it turns out this was a total lie.
When will people learn that it's not the crime but the cover-up that gets you in trouble? Ms McWilliams would have been okay if she had acknowledged her tense relationship with the community and their lack of involvement or agreement. Looking the Board members square in the eye and lying to them, however, is going to have consequences.
I didn't mention it in my original post, but Lesley Rogers, the head of communications, was at the meeting. She was there with Mr. Tolley to help describe how they would spin the deletion of the GPA requirement from the high school graduation requirements. It got torn up in the press last time it came before the Board so they are going to be more intentional in their communications about it this time.
Her presence at the meeting reminded me of the recent job posting for an internal communications specialist. I bet that she was feeling confirmed in her decision to create that job when the principals of the Creative Approach Schools told the Board that no one in the JSCEE knew what a Creative Approach School was. She will probably feel that validation again when she finds out that none of the principals who are getting a Special Education service delivery model know anything about it.
One of few clear pieces of information that came out of the swirl of jargon and contradiction presented by Special Education at the meeting was the fact that all comprehensive middle schools would be using the "Access" service delivery model - the one in which students with disabilities will spend over 50% of the school day in general education classrooms with support. Turns out that the principals didn't know that. Maybe the internal communications specialist can delivery that news.
Look, Special Education is governed by a federal law, IDEA, and they are always complicated and lawyerly. Plus it has this whole basket of jargon that comes with it (IEP, LRE, and much, much more) and there's all these rules layered on top of the law. That without even including 504s. I'm not even sure if 504s are part of Special Education or not. If you are not personally involved in it - hands on - Special Education is hard to understand. So I'm not going to pretend that I know or understand all of the different ways that Seattle Public Schools is screwing it up, but I know enough to know that they are screwing it up.
The achievement gap and the disproportionate discipline would tell me that even if I didn't have community members telling me. The strong hand of enforcement by the OSPI is another big clue. How bad do you have to mess things up for the OSPI, the laziest cop in the world, to step forward and try to enforce the law?
I can also say that I am completely confident that Ms McWilliams is intentionally misleading the Board about her community, and I'm equally confident in saying that won't fly in Seattle. I'm not sure where that kind of crap does work given this age of blogs and email. You can't tell one story in one room and a completely different story in another room and expect that the two audiences won't each hear about what you told the other one. That's just childish.
So - a friendly warning to Ms McWilliams: be straight with the Board about your relationship with the community and your community engagement. And a friendly hint to the Board: get independent corroboration about Ms McWilliams' claims about community engagement.