SEPTA has been grateful over the past few years for the opportunity to meet quarterly with leadership from FCPS’ Department of Special Services (DSS) to share and discuss concerns we see being raised by the community. Our last quarterly meeting of the year was held on Monday, May 9, 2022, with the following people in attendance: SEPTA President Michelle Cades, SEPTA Vice President Amanda Campbell, SEPTA Advocacy Chair Diane Cooper Gould, Asst. Superintendent of Special Services Dr. Michelle Boyd, Director of the Office of Special Education Mike Bloom, Director of Intervention and Prevention Services Deb Scott, and Acting Director of the Office of Special Education Procedural Support Dawn Schaefer.
Over the course of the hour-long meeting, we shared concerns and questions ranging from the Student Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R) policy proposals, to school refusal and chronic absenteeism, to the ongoing request for proposal (RFP) process related to literacy and math resource purchases for special education. We had a robust discussion regarding the concerns we’ve seen raised in the community regarding the proposed cell phone policy changes in the SR&R, especially how that relates to the privacy rights of students with disabilities under IDEA. We also raised the idea that parental consent should be required, rather than the current policy of parental notification, when students with disabilities – especially students with intellectual and developmental disabilities – are being questioned by school staff and police. We encourage any families and community members with concerns to reach out to your school board members.
We also discussed concerns regarding the issue of school refusal and how that relates to chronic absenteeism, students being disenrolled from the school district (and the impact, then, on their IEP services), and looking into reviewing data that explores the intersections with mental health service access both within FCPS and also in private practices. DSS indicated that some of the concerns we raised would require state-level advocacy, and SEPTA indicated that we would be happy to partner with them in that effort.
SEPTA has been heavily invested in FCPS’ programmatic switch in literacy instruction to one that is based on the Science of Reading. For those that may be unfamiliar, the Science of Reading focuses on explicit, systematic, cumulative instruction in five areas of reading: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. If your family is in elementary school this year, you may have noticed, for example, an increase in phonics-related activities coming home this year as FCPS begins to make the transition district-wide. Part of the process of making this transition requires a review of our basal resources and our intervention programs.
While the district-wide adoption of K-6 language arts basal resources has been put on hold for now, until the Virginia Dept. of Education can provide a list of approved resources as required by the newly passed Virginia Literacy Act, the RFP process for special education literacy and math interventions is moving forward. SEPTA’s discussion with DSS administrators was centered on ensuring that the special education RFP process is integrated with the ongoing Equitable Access to Literacy Plan work, as well as the K-6 Language Arts Basal Resources work, to ensure that all of our students, in all settings, have access to basal resources and interventions that are based in the Science of Reading.
These quarterly meetings provide an excellent opportunity for SEPTA to connect with DSS leadership and build relationships so that we may partner to address the needs of students with disabilities across FCPS. We thank Dr. Boyd and her team for taking the time to meet with us and hear our concerns. While often the issues at play are complicated and require long-term efforts, and while we may not always agree, we appreciate the opportunity to amplify the voice of our members and community as we work to fulfill our mission of ensuring every student with disabilities has the opportunity to develop to their full potential as individuals and community members.