Dear FCPS Administration and Members of the School Board,
After watching the entire work session on Tuesday with a cohort of SEPTA board members, we saw an almost immediate uptick in posts in our SEPTA Facebook Groups.. By mid-day Wednesday, many in our community were clamoring for SEPTA to share their concerns with FCPS Staff and the School Board. In response to these requests, we set up an open-ended question (via a Google form) in our groups.
The form link was posted around 4:30PM on Wednesday. By the time that I started to draft this letter, at 10:30PM, we had received just over 300 questions from our community members. Even as we were working to sort and categorize the questions, they continued to stream into our form.
Unfortunately, the release of the plan options has raised substantial concerns in parents. Their anxiety is clearly palpable. The underlying issue is this: How is a parent of a child who has an IEP supposed to decide which option to select if the school system hasn’t provided any guidance as to how they will provide special education services and collect data on IEP goals in either scenario? With the added pressure of making a one year commitment to the unknown by July 10th, parents feel frustrated, discouraged, and defeated.People with disabilities are at a higher risk for contracting the virus and for encountering secondary negative effects from the pandemic (LINK HERE) It is no wonder that this group of parents are struggling so intensely (Sources: WHO and APA)
Without ample information to inform their decision, it is unfair to expect parents to be able to make such a crucial choice – one that their children will be locked into for a full school year.
One could potentially make the argument that asking for a year-long commitment to a “placement” of virtual vs. in-person schooling violates the spirit (or perhaps the actual law) of IDEA. IEPs are sometimes referred to as living, breathing documents; they can be changed whenever necessary to best meet the needs of the individual student. Committing to a year-long placement runs counter to the underlying essence of an IEP.
As such, SEPTA requests that you consider the following suggestions::
- Do not ask parents of special education students to make a decision by July 10 with the lack of information that has been presented — and let parents know as soon as possible that they will not need to adhere to this deadline.
- Hold separate information sessions / town hall meetings / work sessions to explicitly discuss the details of how special education students will receive their education and all services. Provide realistic, concrete answers to these questions, prior to expecting choices.
- Answer parents’ specific questions so they have enough information to make an informed decision.
- Allow for flexibility throughout the school year or if continual flexibility is not an option, at the absolute least, give parents and staff the chance to reassess after the first semester or at winter break.
Attached you will find a chart with all of the questions we received. We eliminated the duplicate questions, but highlighted and numbered any questions asked more than once. We did our best to sort the questions into categories. Many questions related to general education, not just special education. Those questions are categorized as “General – [subtopic]”. Otherwise, the categories are all related to the special education population.
While viewing the School Board work session, we sometimes heard that details to various issues would be worked out at a later time. For our parents, those details are essential pieces of information that will determine which choice will be the better of two non-ideal options. We ask that you take the time to read these questions and to think about how you will go about addressing these concerns, what you will realistically be able to do and what will be impossible. Be direct and up front with our community. Parents appreciate straightforward, honest answers, even when the answer is, “I just don’t know and I’m going to have to give this some more thought.” But please, be mindful that if FCPS does not know how they will implement special education services in either placement option, parents can not be expected to know which option to choose.
Thank you for your consideration of the concerns of some of our most vulnerable students, their worried parents and staff.
Michelle Cades, President
Amanda Campbell, Vice President
Diane Cooper-Gould, Advocacy Chair
Questions Sent to FCPS Leadership & School Board
Here is a redacted copy of the list of questions that SEPTA sent out to the School Board and FCPS Administration. As there were many repetitions of questions, we condensed/deleted some and instead noted in the 3rd column the number of times that the question was asked (those questions are highlighted to draw attention to the repetition).
Some of the remaining questions may initially seem redundant, but where we found them to be nuanced and carry slightly different focuses, we opted to include the separate versions. Specific child identifiers as well as specific school names were changed to protect privacy. Also, please keep in mind that questions were still coming in as we were organizing them and drafting the letter to do out. Our apologies if you don’t see your specific question! We did keep the form open & are saving further questions we receive for potentially follow up.
NBC-4 Coverage of these concerns:
The video above contains clips from both the 4:30pm and 5:30pm airings – each clip is slightly different. Please see this link for the 5:30pm clip on NBC-4’s website.