Candidate Responses to SEPTA’s Questionnaire

To carry out its advocacy program, SEPTA prepared a school board candidate questionnaire for the November 2019 Election. Responses from the candidates are listed in the order they were received.

The following candidates did not respond:

Zia A. Tompkins
Anastasia S. Karloutsos
Ardavan Mobasheri
Tamara J. Derenak Kaufax
Tom L. Pafford
Pamela C. Ononiwu
R. Kyle McDaniel

Question 1:  Discipline: The FCPS 2018-2019 Discipline Study conducted by the FCPS Office on Equity, led by Dr. Francisco Durán, revealed that students with disabilities are nearly *4 times* more likely to be subject to the discipline process than any other peer group in FCPS. How would you address this disparity of outcomes?

Read Candidate Responses


Elizabeth Schultz
I have been fighting to address concerns in FCPS’ discipline practice not only while on the Board, but for almost two years prior with the Fairfax Zero-Tolerance Reform coalition. It has been clear that the Board, collectively, has been unwilling to hold staff accountable to produce meaningful data on student discipline, which must stop. The Board must seek the information from staff to understand where the disparities occur, to whom and how often. In addition, disaggregating data for discipline is just as important as disaggregating it for student achievement.
This will help the Board understand if there are ‘pockets of excellence’ – schools or pyramids where practices yield better outcomes for students with disabilities – as well as pockets or even wider systemic evidence in schools or pyramids where practices by teachers or administrators reflect worse outcomes.

Further, the disproportionality of discipline for boys, boys who are minorities, and boys who are students with disabilities is something I have fought to highlight repeatedly since I have been on the Board. I noted at a Work Session recently from data staff finally produced due, in part I believe, to my relentless advocacy for transparency on statistics, that there is an increased likelihood of students being absent and having declining grades once involved in the discipline system. Thus, I have also advocated for looking at trends in the academic year to anticipate when discipline incidents occur in order to implement proactive measures to prevent, if possible, student involvement in disciplinary matters.
Finally, the repeated lack of causality under MDRs, in my opinion, necessitates a deep review of how the IEP Teams review discipline cases in relation to potential causality – and whether students who are involved in discipline matters should have been screened earlier for IEP eligibility.

Tom Wilson
First I want to give a general response to this: elect more fathers to the School Board. Also, elect people to the School Board who have children, preferably in or recently in FCPS. Why do I say this? School Board members sit through countless disciplinary proceedings behind closed doors, where they make important decisions about student’s lives. Many of the students being discussed have some sort of disability. Also, most of them are boys. I cannot tell you how many times I have felt that the majority of the School Board was out of touch with the developmental trajectory of middle and high school adolescent boys with learning disabilities. Inevitably, I found there was very little mercy to be had from our Board in these situations. I am not saying that all behavior should be excused if a child has an IEP. I fully understand the right of all of our students and staff to feel safe and welcome at school. However, we need a Board that is going to bring multiple points of view to these issues instead of the echo chamber we have now.

As far as solutions at the school level, I believe we need to have less of a top-down approach and more emphasis on giving school administrators and teachers latitude to do what they need to do in their particular situations. While it is necessary to have standardized disciplinary procedures in place for the entire county, we should also identify areas and circumstances where there can be more discretion and flexibility, particularly with our students with disabilities. We need to go beyond just identifying these situations. We need to promote this mindset. In a huge bureaucratic organization there is always going to be the opposite pull to dictate rules from the top down, so this would require a paradigm shift to give over some of that authority to individual school administrators and teachers.

What is needed in many disciplinary situations is a more individualized, flexible, and creative approach to problem solving.

Vinson Xavier Palathingal
If this is the case, that is terrible news. Students with disabilities are the ones that need utmost care, consideration and protection and if instead they are being subject to harsher disciplinary action, that is highly irresponsible. The School Board cannot shy away from its responsibility to hold staff accountable. As the member of the Board, I will engage with the staff to understand this data better and go to individual cases and try to understand for myself what is going on. Such trends may be the reason for the disparity in achievement and if we can nail down the problem, that can help improve achievement as well. School discipline statistics always show more boys than girls subjected disciplinary actions. As a father of two boys who did their entire schooling at FCPS and as a person with clear memory of my days as a student in a boys only school, I am very well equipped to understand the issues from a male student perspective. One of my sons having ADHD and related behavioral issues while in school has given me more insight into what the kids with disabilities, especially those from minority groups, are enduring and still try to do their best. If the system behaves without understanding their challenges, then kids like my son cannot achieve what they are truly capable of achieving. I always remember with thanks professionally trained teachers he had, who know exactly how to work with a kid with ADHD and at the same time very gifted. That made him who he is today. Demanding full transparency in all issues is the first place to start. That will send a strong message to the staff that this is serious business. Ensuring the staff has the best professional training and a genuine desire to help students with disabilities is another culture that we should openly promote. Those who are working with kids with disabilities should have a passion to help them and should not be just employees out there to have a secure job.

Elaine Tholen
In order to lessen the inordinate amount of students with disabilities referred for discipline, we will need to be sure our teachers and administrators are trained to understand what behaviors are indeed a discipline issue and which stem from the student’s disability. Many of our principals and assistant principals have no Special Education background and they need training in guidelines for discipline to provide clarity on what to do in these situations. We need to be sure each school has the behavioral interventionists and crisis resource teachers needed to provide assistance in our classrooms so that students with disabilities are supported and not punished for behaviors that they cannot control. These interventionists need to be there to collaborate with the classroom teachers and administrators to be sure each situation is handled in the most professional and compassionate manner possible.

Melanie Meren
First I want to begin by saying, “I hear you.” I will work to improve systems and situations that don’t serve our students with special with disabilities and needs. (“students with disabilities” is used for ease of reading, but includes students with special needs, too).

Regarding the disparity in discipline, we need to identify solutions – positive behavior interventions – to preemptively decrease the mitigating circumstances that trigger situations that lead to discipline. We must have an action plan to implement solutions as soon as possible, that includes professional development for teachers, staff and administrators.

We also need to identify our goal – are we trying to decrease incidents by a certain amount, or get to a certain number? These questions and more must be answered in collaboration with SEPTA, FCPS staff, and the School Board.

My understanding is that FCPS needs stronger protocols and systems to ensure that the resources (staff) are in place and ready to best support students’ IEPs – and use clearly defined, disciplinary action only when necessary.

At the center is people – students, teachers, instructional assistants, school administrators, support staff. The team that support students needs to be fully-staffed and confident in strategies to decrease the likeliness of situations that lead to discipline – and clearly understand the protocols for implementing and reporting disciplinary action. We need more Behavior Intervention Teachers available in our schools. Knowledgeable and supportive staff are needed in the classrooms, and at building and district levels, too, to support those working directly with students and to analyze reported data.

Furthermore, IEP teams need the ability to swiftly convene. Students (and teachers) cannot languish for weeks waiting for solutions. If the system and protocols aren’t clear and timely, people are ill-equipped to serve our students – causing harm to students, classmates, and adults.

Laura Ramirez Drain
There is no one direct answer or solution to this tragedy. It’s a multifaceted problem that requires the attention of every aspect of our educational and community base. We need to review not only the discipline process but the IEP development, Child Find Procedures, progress monitoring, and teacher/staff preparedness, as well. Not only data will be required but also parent, teacher and student input will be needed to bring a complete view of what is working and what needs revision. Most of all, the social, academic, behavioral and developmental needs of students need to be considered. How we’re meeting the literacy and language needs of our students is crucial in this cycle of inequitable disciplinary actions. If a child can’t receive and process information either verbally or by print, then frustration and eventual disengagement in academics occurs. To do so our programming instruction needs to not only have research- based foundations but also firmly grounded research validated outcomes. Just looking at the data provided on the Virginia Department of Education School Quality site, tells me we need to do better in strengthening student literacy so they can effectively communicate and engage positively in the classroom, school and among their peers.

Additionally, data and input involving the MDR process and the parental or guardian role in this process is an area we need to do better with. How are we engaging in dialogue with our parents and guardians? Do the parent’s and guardians feel engaged and as equal members of the team and discussion. A stronger working relationship between the home and school needs to fostered to ensure a positive connection in working toward the goal of successful outcomes of the child.

Cheryl Buford
First, FCPS needs to further disaggregate the data to determine more details regarding the disparities and look for patterns and causality. Likewise, it is also important to look for those schools, teachers, and practices that are successful, so that others can learn from what is working. Utilize a “Project Momentum-style” approach to provide peer-to-peer mentoring to teachers and staff. Furthermore, tapping the rich insights from Special Education PTA (SEPTA) and the Advisory Committee on Students with Disabilities (ACSD) members may provide fresh ideas. After fully drawing upon our internal resources, it may still be necessary to also provide teachers and staff with outside in-service training to offer them alternative ways to diffuse and manage behavior that do not involve punishment. Lastly, FCPS should expand its partnerships with outside organizations offering services to support our teachers and staff. As an example, FCPS currently contracts with Youth for Tomorrow’s (YFT) Therapeutic Day Treatment program (TDT) to work in 11 schools. YFT sends behavioral specialists to schools, serving at the pleasure of the Principal, to work with the most challenging children. The specialists are equipped to provide immediate intervention, increasing the likelihood of helping these students redirect problematic behaviors, return to learning, and safeguard the learning environment for the rest of the class. As an added bonus, Medicaid funds the TDT program, so cost is not an issue.

Andrea “Andi” L. Bayer
We cannot begin to address this disparity without relevant and purposeful data. Specifically, data must be collected and aggregated on situational circumstances such as: incidence locality (classroom, lunch room, hallway), persons involved (student-student, student-teacher, student-staff) potential causes (school work, peer relations, bullying, stress, etc.), and type of infraction (breaking rules, class disruption, defiance of authority, hostility, rudeness, etc.). Only by having such meaningful data can we begin to identify patterns or areas of concern that can be targeted with relevant and purposeful interventions.

This specific issue of discipline and special education has been and continues to be a significant concern that is continuously brought to the attention of the current School Board each year at the Board’s Public Hearings on the FCPS Budget. It is more than apparent that our special education teachers are beyond over-burdened and struggle constantly with discipline issues. I recommend you watch the video from the FCPS School Board Budget Public Hearing from May 14, 2019.

Rachna Sizemore Heizer
“This is a very important and serious topic and as someone who has spent over a decade advocating for improvement in special education, I had written 13 pages to answer all these questions but when I tried to submit I found I was limited to 300 words on this form. I’ve posted my full answers on my website and linked them here.

Short answer here – better programming designed to understand today’s complex disabilities, better training and support for general education teachers, hearings officers, IAs, and administrators to understand disability related behavior manifestations and they need to take IEPs into account in discipline decisions. We need more proactive behavior management support, more support for students in general education, IEP team involvement in and IEP accommodations for questioning that may lead to discipline, consistent implementation of IEP accommodations, more IA support, more behavior interventionists, proactive Executive Functioning and social skills programming throughout the day, trauma informed education, mindfulness, parent/special education teacher involvement in questioning, manifestation reviews for all discipline cases, better social inclusion. Special education specialists to help general education teachers and administrators. Equity specialists need special education training in understanding the needs and challenges of SWD, legal protections, behavior management with consistent collaboration with SPED departments and consistent implementation of IEP accommodations with oversight, counselors trained in working with special needs students. Mandated training specifically for administrators in knowing services, supports, and interventions available how to support behavior needs. Ensure all our teachers and staff have the resources, training, and ability to support all of our students across environments”

Laura Jane Cohen
I’m deeply troubled by the inequities in our disciplinary processes. As a member of the FCPS equity stakeholders group, I know this is one of the most pressing issues that needs to be addressed system-wide. Not only are we unfairly targeting black and brown kids, but our students with disabilities are indeed 4 times more likely to be disciplined than students without disabilities.

We need much more training for our SpEd and GenEd staff, as well as our admins and SROs on how to interact with and support our special needs kids. Everyone working with our kids needs to be able to quickly recognize when behavior is consistent with a disability and not willful behavior. We need more Behavior Interventionists to help us come up with appropriate behavior plans for our students. We need all our educators to incorporate trauma informed techniques and practices so that situations can be quickly recognized and deescalated before our kids wind up in trouble and in situations that they cannot “behave” their way out of.

I also believe this county uses out-of-school suspensions far too frequently, particularly in elementary schools. We must do our best to keep kids in our schools, learning. We have a responsibility to provide free and appropriate education to ALL our students, even when it is difficult to do so. I believe one of the big reasons we let kids get to this point is that we don’t have appropriate intervention strategies when they are young.

We also need to further invest in restorative justice in our schools in the hopes that we can keep our students in a supportive learning environment.
If discipline must rise to the level of a suspension, the process needs to change. We need much better oversight and review to ensure we develop a “blind” system of justice for all our kids.

Karen Keys-Gamarra
I will continue to work on eliminating disparities for all students, including students with disabilities. First, I put forth a budget amendment to provide additional Behavior Intervention Teachers to assist our staff in understanding the needs of our SPED students. The BIT’s can also assist in providing professional development, analyzing the circumstances that led to the behavior concern, identifying triggers and identifying coping skills and strategies for implementation. Overall, I want to shift toward improving staff’s ability to understand the way that a SPED student communicates and to move away from punishment when safety is not a concern. Ultimately, this should help FCPS to develop more accurate and helpful Individual Educational Plans for our students. Secondly, I advocated for significant revisions to the SR&R that limits decisions based on subjective analysis for discipline. The revised provisions require staff to complete an MDR and removes the matter from the discipline process if the behavior was a manifestation of the disability when safety was not a concern. We also want to focus on second chances for all students. The revisions to the SR&R serve as a signal that this Board does not want to focus on discipline referrals as a classroom management tool. This shift in emphasis should assist us in serving all of our students and families.

Karl Frisch
I do not pretend to be an all-knowing expert. There are thousands of parents in Fairfax County whose lived experience gives them granular-level expertise into the successes and failures of FCPS. My conversations with parents, students, teachers, and policy advocates demonstrate my willingness to listen, do my homework, and work with families to address these challenges.

There are many changes we can make to address these enormous discipline disparities. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I welcome further input from parents and advocates:

Manifestations Reviews for All Discipline Concerns: The SR&R needs to be revised to take into account a student’s disability and IEP for all discipline concerns. We shouldn’t wait until a student receives a 10-day suspension before we conduct a manifestation review to see if their behavior was impacted by their disability. Early positive behavioral intervention by trained experts and consistent application of policies from teacher to teacher and school to school are key.

More Behavioral Interventionists: Many more Behavior Intervention Teacher Specialists (BITS) are needed if we are going to meaningfully address these severe discipline disparities and keep students learning in classrooms. Parents should not have to request (or know that they can request) a Functional Behavior Assessment to address the needs of their child – it should just happen. With additional, consistent support, problematic behavior can be replaced with good behavior.

Better Training: Training that teaches about disability-related behavior should be required for general education teachers, related support staff, administrators, and school resource officers. Rather than overreacting or waiting until the behavior becomes severe, using positive behavior interventions will help staff to address issues early and deescalate problematic situations. We also need better support for students with IEPs in general education classes.

Karen Corbett Sanders
Disproportionality in discipline occurs when teachers become overwhelmed and don’t understand neurodiversity. Some expect that all students will behave similarly in an inclusive classroom. Because emotionally or intellectually disabled children may behave differently than a pre-conceived “norm”, some teachers discipline students with disabilities more often than others. It is essential that teachers are trained in implicit bias and cultural sensitivity, positive behavior intervention strategies, and are able to access supports from adminstrators and behavior intervention teachers who can help them understand the “why” of a student’s behavior and work in partnership with parents and students to address the behavior. For two years, the Board has focused on disproportionality. This includes approving a new School Resource Officer (SRO) MOU delineating the role of uniformed officers vs. that of administrators responsible for discipline. I believe that with the parents’ permission, IEPs should be shared with SROs. This summer, we changed the Student Rights and Responsibilities to transform the discipline policy from a punitive approach to one that focuses on restorative justice, working with parents, changing behaviors and keeping kids in school. Professional development began this summer focused on restorative justice practices, trauma informed classrooms and implicit bias training so that teachers and administrators have a better understanding of the needs of children that have previously been over identified for discipline practices. Additionally, the term disorderly conduct (which is contained in the penal code) has been replaced with disruptive behavior, taking it out of the legal realm. The Board has asked for quarterly monitoring reports to determine the effectiveness of the changes and identify instances where there may continue to be a problem or patterns of behavior that reflect disproportionality. These instances will then be addressed.

Stella Pekarsky
Teachers and administrators need professional development training opportunities to understand behavior management techniques (such as Positive Behavior Intervention Support) for our students with disabilities, and to identify “typical, developmentally, appropriate” behavior . We need to also increase the resources and support to teachers and staff through behavior interventionists. Lastly, the school board and staff leadership should monitor the effectiveness of the changes made to the SR&R to ensure there are positive results for our students.

Steven Mosley
I serve as the Coordinator For Student Integrity and Conduct at NOVA and have spent my professional career in higher education as a Conduct Officer. Over the last eight years, I’ve seen that restorative justice not only addresses the disparity, but also, does what traditional discipline models aren’t as successful at doing— repairing harm and rebuilding trust.

Restorative Justice includes all involved parties: parents, teachers, and administrators. Restorative Justice focuses on repairing harm and rebuilding trust in the context of accountability. These Restorative Justice agreements should go a long way in addressing the disparity of outcome in Student Conduct cases.

Secondly, I would make sure that there is a representation on Student Conduct panels and restorative circles from the special needs community to ensure that students aren’t disciplined for their disability, but only for violations of the code of conduct. The insight from the disability advocate or panel members would bring the needed insight to help address misbehavior or correct misunderstanding around special needs issues.

Megan McLaughlin
As a former community advocate, social worker, and 8 year School Board Member, I have consistently brought a passionate voice for restorative justice practices versus punitive student discipline practices. This includes reducing out of school suspensions as well as involuntary transfers. These changes are especially important for students with disabilities, given their significant disproportionality in FCPS discipline infractions. In addition, I continue to champion prevention efforts more effective use of PBIS (Postive Behavioral Intervention and Supports), stronger adherence to best practices during the Manifest Determination Reviews (MDR) to ensure students are not unfairly disciplined due to their disability. Given student misbehavior is often a non-verbal form of communication, it’s important to work closely with students and families to identify the root cause of their misbehavior. I have also supported funding for additional Behavior Intervention Teachers (BIT) as well as additional staff training and professional development.

Priscilla DeStefano
I would ask FCPS staff to provide dis-aggregated data on these disciplinary incidents to provide deeper insight as to why we see such large increases when dealing with students with disabilities. I would want data specific to schools in which incidents occur, to whom, and how often, to try to determine where patterns of disciplinary action may be occurring. I would want, when possible, to reach out to those parents directly to receive insight from how they felt their children were treated throughout these disciplinary processes, and what they think we can be doing better. Parents of these children are the key resource to students thriving in FCPS, and to take on this issue, we need to be collaborating with them, as well as their children’s teachers, to find the right solutions. I would also welcome any input SEPTA would be open to providing me as a school board member.

Ricardy Anderson
The manifestation of student behavior, particularly that of students with disabilities, is oft misunderstood and inaccurately identified resulting in the application of punitive discipline measures. Without in-depth understanding of the disability and its triggers, and a clear protocol to address manifested behavior, students with disabilities will continue to be disproportionately punished as staff grapple to restore order and minimize loss of instructional time.
Significant efforts must be made to provide all teachers and administrators with training to build their understanding of various disabilities and associated behaviors. In my experience, discipline referrals often result when staff attempts to apply strategies inappropriate for students with disabilities. Coupling increased professional development with on-site support from behavioral experts to help staff manage extreme behaviors using individualized research-based strategies will support reductions in disciplinary referrals for students with special needs.
Lastly, engaging staff in building a school culture which prioritizes student engagement in the learning process and a shared willingness to participate in programs such as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports and restorative practices will decrease the discipline referrals for all students, especially students with disabilities.

Abrar Omeish
Disparities in discipline represent intolerable injustices and reveal a deeper problem. They are only symptoms. I remember my own peer at Robinson who was suspended without any clue as to why. As I have accompanied parents of students with special needs, I have noticed deep traumas and a fundamental lack of understanding by school leadership of the unique and custom “language” students with special needs engage through.

I would like to:

-Eliminate seclusion practices as done by specialized centers and recommended by specialists and trauma-informed experts
-Reappropriate seclusion rooms as therapy spaces for stress reduction and development of healthy habits
-Designate restraint as a final resort and report any such application to parents within one week with a follow up plan of positive behavioral interventions and supports
-Mandate a minimum ratio for therapists, behavioralists, and other specialists per student to ensure behavior is understood/accommodated to prevent problem situations
-Set in place IEP review upon behavioral incidents to examine shortcomings and unmet goals
-Require modules for all staff *and students* for empathy-building, unconscious bias, integration, and especially de-escalation; as well as cognitive bias and required practicums for any staff involved with disciplinary procedures (SROs, principals, etc.)
-Train all staff *and students* on common conditions and ways to engage with the differently-abled, with specialized certification for special ed teachers
-Increase supports and mentorship for special ed educators
-Shift towards behavioral supports and relational/restorative justice methods such that suspensions and other drastic measures require School Board approval
-Examine intersectionalities in discipline disparities which include racial and socioeconomic dimensions
-Mandate expressed prohibition of consent and notice waivers for any student documented to have an IEP when no parent/guardian is present without exception


Question 2: AccessAccess to Academy Programs, AAP, Honors classes, and electives (other than Strategies for Success and Personal Development) is often limited for students with disabilities. The same applies to after-school clubs and sports. This occurs despite the ADA requirement that all programming must be accessible to all students, regardless of ability. How do you propose to make all programming accessible to students with disabilities in FCPS?

Read Candidate Responses


Elizabeth Schultz
As a parent of students who have been directly impacted by this policy, I am particularly concerned about this practice. Students with disabilities miss participating in fine and performing arts, robotics and technology classes and other electives which may be their opportunity to shine and excel outside the strictly academic courses – and which may give them relief from the pressures those classes pose depending upon the nature of their disability. Paving the way to allow support which occurs in classes like Strategies for Success to be pushed into the curriculum delivery of academic classes will ensure support which doesn’t require preserving a full class in a student’s schedule. For some students, that currently becomes a four-year loss of opportunity to explore electives if they need the Strats class through high school.
Innovating curriculum choices through establishing more elective classes with a multi-disciplinary approach could also help create new opportunities for students with disabilities.
In addition, I have also advocated that the Board support a legislative approach to allow computer coding to fulfill the foreign language graduation requirement for students with disabilities. For so many students who already struggle with a language-based disability, whether processing or otherwise, the three year foreign language requirement is a real struggle. Given the practical need for more computer coders in every level of industry in the country, this would not only expand elective openings for students, this would fulfill a real need for employers by adding an employable skill for students post-graduation.
As the liaison the Advisory Committee on Students with Disabilities for seven of the eight years I have been on the Board, accessing the rich knowledge base of the members serving on ACSD on how to improve access, transition, discipline, and governing on matters regarding students with disabilities is, to date, an insufficiently tapped resource.

Tom Wilson
I will pick up where I left off on the last questions and continue to emphasize the need for flexibility and creativity combined with a greater understanding of learning disabilities. For the population of students who are twice exceptional, with the ability to do AAP and Honors classes, this cannot be stressed enough. One example of this would be modifying an AP class for such a student. I had such a student in my own household! When a student gets a C in the AP class but a 5 on the AP exam, there is a problem! The problem usually boils down to executive functioning skills and the inability to do the many small assignments required in such classes. However, many teachers and parents believe that if a child is “”smart”” they should not need any accommodations. There needs to be on-going teacher and parent training opportunities on this subject. Most twice exceptional kids will not need an extra aide or teacher, particularly in the upper grades, to participate in such classes and programs if the primary teacher has enough tools in his or her toolbox to make adjustments as needed.

In most situations, whether it is Academy programs, electives, or after school clubs and sports, what is needed is practical, hands on help in order to include every student. This is why I get so frustrated when the School Board doesn’t think it is a big deal to spend money on consultants, huge car allowances for leadership team members, or pet projects that are not on the communities’ radar, just to give a few of many examples. What we can’t forget when whenever we spend money is that there is that there are children with disabilities in our system who need more one on one or small group help in order to access everything FCPS has to offer. Those people cost money, but not always a lot. We could address many of these issues by hiring aides and assistants to provide this kind of practical help.

Vinson Xavier Palathingal
The whole world accepting the individuals with disabilities as individuals who are differently abled was for a reason. Those who doesn’t fit into the standard frame of reference are often especially talented in some disciplines and/or sports/arts. When we limit such individuals from the very opportunity that may be their natural domain, then our system is not working. My son while struggling with his ADHD in his 9th grade took a computer programming class during his summer. That changed his life for good. He did extremely well in the class and was helping others in the class in their work. From that point onwards he took many coding classes and all his teachers and peers loved him and respected him. He has found his rhythm finally. If such opportunity was denied to such a student assuming he cannot perform, we are doing a serious disservice to that student. Differently abled kids should be specially considered for participation in fine arts, performing arts, coding, robotics and other technology classes, as a true way of finding their differently abled selves. This may help them shine better than regular kids paving the way for boosted confidence and even handling the regular classes better. Curriculum choices through more flexible electives and accommodative requirements for diploma can also help them tremendously. I have heard about computer coding becoming a foreign language requirement and I think that too can tremendously help a child like my son, who struggled with Spanish but was THE best in computer science. For students who are already struggling with a disability, the three-year foreign language requirement is too high a bar. If we can reduce their struggle while channelizing their efforts to areas that interests them more, we are helping them a lot, and we are helping the society. I will be a strong proponent of such access and flexibility in the system on behalf of differently abled children.

Elaine Tholen
In my experience working with outdoor classroom spaces at FCPS, we worked hard to ensure that these educational spaces were available to all of our students and worked hard to meet ADA requirements. I often found that this required education of instructional staff and of facilities staff to point out that these spaces and activities were in fact educational and that plans needed to be made to include every student. I worked closely with special education staff and other specialists to be sure we knew what the requirements were and we were successful in having many of our most disabled students participate in our environmental education activities. It was often difficult and time consuming to make this happen. This kind of education, understanding and training needs to happen at all levels and in all programs and we need to be persistent and creative to make sure this happens in areas where our students are underrepresented—after school programs, sports programs, electives, AAP, etc. After school programs are often overlooked but are very important for all students. Funding and support for staff running these programs is necessary.

Melanie Meren
All students deserve access to opportunities that Fairfax offers, to grow academically and socially/emotionally. Yet, our students with disabilities get short-changed when it comes to advanced academic and elective classes, and extracurricular activities.

It’s time to address this. Our schools must educate the whole child – academically challenge students to their abilities, offer experiences to explore interests, and promote socialization with peers. Where students with disabilities may be advanced academically, they may be delayed or disabled socially and emotionally. Let’s stop bifurcating these two realities. Let’s get help in place to address this need – we need to stop limiting students and begin opening pathways for them.
FCPS needs stronger communications to students and parents to inform them about opportunities. This could include new protocols that share these opportunities at IEP meetings.
We need to consider the kind of staff support (number of staff and training) who can provide these opportunities to students. This should be planned into the annual budget, as a commitment to this happening. Relatedly, we should educate volunteers and out-of-school time providers about how to include students with disabilities. We have to be honest about the basic resources needed for students to fully participate, and move away from making these “optional” or “suggestions”.

Similar to my response in question 1, more training and education is needed among general education teachers and school administrators on how to offer such opportunities to students with IEPs.

Finally, we can no longer exclude our students with disabilities. We know it doesn’t benefit them, nor gen ed students who don’t engage with students different than themselves. Diversity is our strength; we need infrastructure so all students have opportunities, together where possible. ”

Laura Ramirez Drain
Integrating the skills taught in Strategies for Success and Personal Development within the student’s content classes will enable all students to both learn and apply those skills as they relate to their individualized needs and daily problem solving challenged. From my own experience as a parent, I noticed some of my children’s content area teachers had incorporated organization, planning and goal setting into their lessons plans. Many of the strategies seemed to be similar, especially at the middle school level where teachers have the flexibility to work as a team across all content areas. We need to look at how we can support our teachers in developing an organizational design that will allow for them to interact across departments and plan for student needs. A teacher leadership team will allow for this cross multidisciplinary model consisting of both special education teachers and general education teachers. Our related services professionals, counselors and school psychologists play an integral role too. Their expertise and resources can provide a solidified and comprehensive programming model that will meet individualized needs of students in the least restrictive environment. As a result, course offerings and service delivery options will broaden student opportunities.

Expansion of Academy Programs will need to occur with an increase in availability at the base school level with supports and services that meet students’ needs. It needs to be a priority of the Board to make this happen. Opportunities to access and engage in career and technical programs are critical in fulfilling post-secondary goals as well as allowing a student to demonstrate their strengths in a variety of settings.

Accessing AAP and Honors Level to AP and IB classes should occur seamlessly for students that these programs and classes are necessary for meeting their unique needs. In order to review current programming models and course offerings, a review of data should occur.

Cheryl Buford
As a school board member, I will promote an entrepreneurial attitude throughout FCPS and seek creative ways to include students with disabilities in Academy programs, AAP, honors classes and electives. I will rely on expertise within FCPS, ACSD, and SEPTA to provide recommendations on professional training and how to modify programs to be more inclusive.

We should be vigilent when reviewing curriculum and teaching techniques to ensure we are using ones that produce the best outcomes for our students. Recently, a mother told me about her son who is now in Level IV AAP. However, as a 2nd grader, he could not read. She hired a tutor who taught him to read using a phonics-based curriculum and he lept ahead of his peers. According to the National Reading Panel’s findings – systematic phonics instruction leads to the greatest gains for young readers. I will insist upon reviewing curriculum so all our students have the greatest opportunity to succeed.

Expanding Academy programs within FCPS, would benefit all students. FCPS only has Academy programs as six high schools. As a board member, I will explore expanding the number and scope of the Academy programs so that more students can graduate with industry-recognized certifications and an internship under their belt. The multi-disciplinary and hands-on nature of the CTE programs, may be of particular benefit to students with disabilities – not to mention helping them prepare for gainful employment after high school.

At present, unless a student’s base school also has an Academy program, he/she must travel by bus during the school day to take an Academy class, giving up a course credit in the process. This scheduling barrier may be particularly difficult for students with disabilities. As a board member, I will explore allowing students to pupil place at the school that hosts the Academy.

Andrea “Andi” L. Bayer
“FCPS needs to be more innovative with its programming options – period!

At Oakton HS, there is an after-school Swim Club and Basketball Team for special needs students taught by members of the varsity teams. Best Buddies is HUGE & successful at OHS! Other schools should mirror these types of programs.

Regarding the Academy Program, all of my kids would have like to have had time to participate.

As a former FCPS student who was born with radical facial disfigurement caused by a rare bone dysplasia (Craniometaphyseal Dysplasia – CMD) that also affected my long bones and joints (especially my knees), I encountered many challenges with school including: bullying, chronic illness, program limitations, and inability to focus. But looking back, I’m glad I was not treated differently, allowed or made to be a victim, or given special accommodations.

I’m now the mother of 3 daughters — each of whom inherited the dysplasia to varying degrees. My oldest (26, married, and a Black Hawk Pilot in the U.S. Army) is very minimally affected, however, she suffered from extreme ADHD as a child. My middle daughter (22 and working for IBM) is more afflicted and has had similar facial reconstruction and brain & skull surgery. My youngest (age 16 & a junior at Oakton HS) is mildly affected, and like her sister, suffers from headaches and joint pain. I also opted to provide them with no special accommodations or victimization. The dysplasia is a life-long condition; one must choose to let it control you, or for you to control it. I’ve chosen the latter.

A dozen years ago I began a CMD support group; we now have members from all over the globe, and I travel internationally and nationally connecting families & matching patients with surgeons. My daughter and I even traveled to Ukraine to appear on a TV show to raise awareness and money to get a 3-year-old child to the U.S. where I had secured free surgical treatment and housing for the family while undergoing treatment.

Rachna Sizemore Heizer
Full answer link here

Short answer here – Training for all staff, especially AAP and teachers of advanced classes regarding twice-exceptionality and how to support it, manifestations of disability, behavioral intervention and sensory needs training to better support 2e kids, Systematic collaboration between special education staff and AAP staff to provide supports. Allow 2e students to access AAP or advanced curriculum in areas of strengths rather than across all disciplines or not at all. Summer camps for 2e students. Team taught and small group honors and AP classes. A 2e specialist to lead an initiative to making AAP and Honors classes accessible to 2e students and to help facilitate student inclusion in advanced, electives, academy and after school activities. After school activities are great places for social inclusion. We need to work with PTAs and coaches, after school programs, and teachers who sponsor clubs to make sure they have training and support to support SWDs. We also need to make sure SWDs are aware of these clubs/activities and encouraged to participate – perhaps a special education after school specialist to work with the middle school after school specialist to ensure accessibility. Late buses that provide appropriate special ed transportation. Better training and implementation support for electives and academy teachers. We also need more support for academy/electives teachers to help include SWDs. Counselor consistent interaction and work with IEP teams to discuss class options –end the siloing – so the IEP teams are more aware of options such as academy classes and electives. Offering intervention or remedial classes during intervention times or before/after school – more options for students in addition to PD or Strategies. Embedding social, emotional and organizational learning into core academic classes.

Laura Jane Cohen
In our own home, we experienced this first hand. After excitedly exploring every opportunity available at the elective fair, my 6th grader came home in tears weeks later when she was told that she couldn’t take any of those electives because she had to take strategies and double block math. She was devastated and felt that she had been lied to. All of her friends would be exploring band, engineering, chorus, art, orchestra, etc., but because she was different (which she internalized as “”dumb””) she couldn’t do any of those things. We pushed back and got the school to allow her to take AVID and theater (the one place she felt successful), if she committed to spending Bruin block and after school time in Math when necessary. For the kids who didn’t have parents who pushed back, what experiences did they miss out on? What gifts or strengths might have been recognized in electives that would have made them feel successful in school?

I believe we have long been missing out on the kind of oversight that catches these missed opportunities. I am hopeful that having an Equity lead will help in recognizing what opportunities our SpEd kids are missing out on. This has not been a priority in FCPS and it must be. ALL our kids deserve fair and equal access to the same opportunities and experiences. If access is being denied because of insufficient staffing needs, then that has to be corrected. If access is being denied because the selection criteria has been unintentionally biased against SPED kids, then perhaps the criteria ought to be changed.

Karen Keys-Gamarra
I have advocated for changes to assure access to programs for all students. This past year, the Special Education Conference included a session on 2E. We must provide appropriate supports for our staff members so that they can serve our SPED students in an inclusive environment. Whether we are serving our students in the classroom or in a sports activity, FCPS must emphasize an inclusive environment that focuses on the ability of the child and allows free expression. I also sponsored an Advanced Academics forum topic to address concerns about accessibility to that program. The Board expects to receive a report on best practices and methods to assure and improve access to that program. for all students.

Karl Frisch
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not optional. We owe it to every student to follow the law and practice social inclusion as a core value in our school communities.

After-school activities are among the few opportunities that disabled students have to be a full part of the school community. It is all the more troubling that the ability for all students to participate varies so greatly from school to school. We can bring increased continuity and consistency to these programs by making sure they each have adequate supports and better training on the inclusion of students with disabilities for coaches, teachers, and parent volunteers.

Twice exceptional (2E) students deserve to have consistent access to the supports they need to succeed. Currently, only general education classes are team taught by both general and special education teachers. This option should be expanded to include honors and Advanced Academic Program (AAP) classes. We also need better training and Instructional Assistant (IA) support for 2E students in these courses to provide them with the tools they need to thrive academically.

Academy Programs provide students with important technical skills and potential career paths, so making sure they offer proper emotional, behavioral, organizational, and sensory supports for students with disabilities is critically important. We also need to do a better job informing parents about these programs and their resulting opportunities.

By forcing middle and high school students to use elective credits to get needed organizational or social support, we are denying them opportunities to discover their passions and potential future careers. Strategies for Success and Personal Development should remain an option BUT we could offer social, organizational interventions during study hall times which would allow students who want to take electives to use their intervention time to access needed supports.

Karen Corbett Sanders
Access to advanced academic programs, afterschool clubs and sports has been a concern of mine since before I was on the Board. As the chair of the Advanced Academic Program Advisory Board, I wrote the AAPAC report on 2E, and another report on equity in middle school after school programs. When I joined the Board, I worked with members of the community and staff to ensure we focused on this important issue of access to advanced courses. I was pleased when the 2E Handbook was published in August 2019 and will ask for a report on the impact of the Handbook in 2020.

Strategies for Success courses should not be the only option for our exceptional students with disabilities. Focusing on remediation of skill deficits at the expense of interesting and engaging activities runs the risks of having our students become bored, unmotivated and disengaged from learning. Although these skills building courses are helpful to students the trade-off should not be for students to be excluded from participating in elective courses that allow them to pursue their passions in the arts, music or other electives. The skills building concepts and disciplines could be equally re-enforced in base classrooms, or during the scheduled time for “panther” time scheduled in our middle and high schools for remediation/homework for our students. This skills building should be done in partnership with parents as educational partners.

Regarding access to after school programs, I am a big proponent of ensuring that all students can participate in after school clubs and activities. Year-end funds have been allocated for additional resources at the middle school level.

Stella Pekarsky
Regarding AAP, it is imperative to offer professional development so that teachers can identify the traits of children that are twice exceptional. Our AAP teachers also need extra support in classes with 2e children. I find it concerning that students with disabilities (like my daughter) have electives taken away from them because they need academic support. We must find creative ways to build in these supports through core classes so that all children can access electives. Professional development, extra support/staffing, and resources are necessary so that teachers and staff know how to implement accommodations to students so they can be successful in all classes.

Steven Mosley
I propose that FCPS require that all clubs and programs be in line with ADA guidelines and that administrators hold groups/programs accountable for ADA requirements. FCPS should also provide information on the most common ADA violations and how clubs/programs can make sure that all students, faculty, and staff are able to participate in events.

Megan McLaughlin
While I have been a strong proponent for our students with disabilities, I know there is much more work to be done. With respect to increasing access to all programming for students with disabilities, I support the creation of a task force of educational experts and community stakeholders to examine the depth and breadth of this problem across our 200 schools. Ideally, this examination will identify where we have pockets of excellence, as well as pockets of challenges. This will ideally yield a more holistic and strategic set of solutions for eliminating these access gaps. On a semi-related note, there needs to be a comprehensive review of FCPS’ IEP practices among our 200 schools. After 8 years of promoting the importance of better partnerships and collaboration between FCPS and parents during the IEP or 504 process, I am still having too many families tell me that they needed to hire a special advocate or lawyer. Hopefully, the new Special Education assistant ombudsman will help improve the process for our students and their families.

Priscilla DeStefano
I think special thought and consideration needs to occur for children who have special needs and have potential for advanced academics. There may be students who would thrive in these environments, but need extra support to do so. Rather than that be a barrier, it should be seen as an opportunity to expose another student to higher learning, and that child should be provided any additional support to help them succeed in an advanced environment.

For extra curricular activities, I would love to see children with disabilities exposed to every activity they may find interest in to see if there is a passion/talent for an instrument or a sport that they may have not been exposed to otherwise. If a desire is there, I believe FCPS has a duty to nurture that desire, and should have programs in place to support these students in their pursuits. Innovative ways of doing this could include a peer mentorship program, where a general education student could volunteer to mentor a child with special needs throughout the program. I’d also like to see partnership with GMU students, who might be willing to volunteer and assist as mentors in supporting these students if additional support is needed.

On a personal note, when I was in high school, I was part of an after school program called Project SUCCESS. This program was created by a mother of a child with special needs, where children from all over Fairfax County, general ed and special ed, came together at the Mott Center to participate in activities such as packing meals for the homeless, participating in relay races, or just playing at the park. I would love to bring this inside of our schools through an offered elective, where every class would integrate general and special education students to engage with each other through special activities that would inspire a love for being inclusive while having fun at the same time.

Ricardy Anderson
Individualized Educational Plans guide the course of study for students with disabilities and should identify and prioritize supports, and monitor progress and access to various programs. IEPs are to be adjusted regularly to reflect current student needs to ensure equitable access.

Abrar Omeish
“It is well-documented that students with special needs reach unimaginable levels of intelligence and capability, surpassing their peers. It is critical to lead with this understanding and to even take encouraging bets on their potential when making decisions. This is about more than reasonable accommodations.

We should:
-Move towards a more inclusive culture, starting with training and integration as mentioned above; ensure all are aware of legal rights afforded to students with special needs, including other students to promote a culture where rights are entitlements
-Provide a transparent appeals process for denied accommodations with explanation
-Incentivize student groups (e.g. club funding) and initiatives to maintain quotas inclusive of sped students
-Audit school activities and facilities for accessibility with the community
-Set in place a responsive reporting mechanism for violations/difficulties families and/or students may have; encouraging community input to hear specific concerns
-Evaluate advanced academics criteria/testing (including the TJ test) for inclusiveness and consider non-discriminatory admissions processes; encouraging students with special needs to apply
-Expand work of the Twice-Exceptional program work in AAP to academies, Honors, electives, sports, clubs, etc.
-Encourage the inclusion of after-school activities in IEP and 504 plans with flexibility to accommodate student exploration and developing preferences
-Require notice, at the beginning of the first IEP meeting, to parents of all rights and amenities available to them by law (shadows, attendants, accommodations, etc.)
-Promote appointed “buddies” in various clubs to assist peers to be there for them and ensure that at least one adult in the building after school (e.g. after school specialist) is trained to work with differently-abled children and has access to the appropriate modifications/aids
-Review availability of advanced academic programming in special needs centers”


Question 3:  Transitions: Students with disabilities often are most at-risk for negative outcomes during times of transition. Currently, explicit transition programming and plans for students with disabilities vary from school to school and team to team. How do you propose that transition planning could be standardized throughout the county to ensure our most vulnerable students are supported during the most difficult transitions in education (including pre-k – kindergarten, elementary-middle, middle-high, and post graduation)?

Read Candidate Responses


Elizabeth Schultz
Just as with discipline and academic success, the Board should require data from staff which disaggregates data on transitions and outcomes for students by school and pyramid. Following the patterns of teachers, support personnel and administrators in transitioning students successfully would provide key insights into which practices are working and which are leaving students behind in preparedness. The recent addition of roles at the Region level without the accompanying reporting out to the Board does not create confidence that adding people/positions for more oversight actually translates into success for students with disabilities.

Creating opportunities for parents of students with disabilities to have meaningful round table discussions with Assistant Superintendents at the Region and DSS level on a host of topics – achievement, discipline, transition, IEP teams, etc. – would also allow for concrete input from the parent’s point of view on how well each area of support is working for their students. Improving and enhancing opportunities for feedback individually and through advocacy groups like SEPTA could increase parent access to leadership, breaking down the barriers parents often feel exist to authentic listening by the school system. Students who are interested and able to share how effective transition services have been for them should also be given increased opportunities to provide feedback. This could help us understand how what FCPS does works or does not work from their unique perspective.

Tom Wilson
I would not be in favor of any program that would involve hiring more “”experts”” to sit at Gatehouse and not work with any students! As I said above, often what is needed are more hands on deck! It is when teachers and administrators are overwhelmed by the numbers of children they are trying to deal with that students can fall through the cracks at critical times. This may not seem like a direct answer to this question, but I think it is extremely important that schools have enough staff directly working with students in order to be able to provide individualized help during times of transition. If special educators feel that they can barely keep up with their current teaching and paperwork obligations, then they are unlikely to be able to do extra activities that may be infinitely more helpful to the transition process.

Realistically, however, there is going to be variability from team to team and school to school on how creative, resourceful, and willing they are to go the extra mile to help a transition be successful. We need to go to the schools themselves and find out what is working rather than have a top down approach that imposes more burdens on staff. If there is a pyramid that has a particularly high rate of success transitioning their students from high school into paid employment, we need to see if we can replicate that program county-wide. I know there are many examples of wonderful things already happening in FCPS because I see and hear about them on a regular basis.

We need teachers and administrators to have the time and ability to focus on helping students with disabilities have positive transition experiences. Putting enough staff in place does, of course, require financial support. Our budget should reflect these priorities.

Vinson Xavier Palathingal
Students with disabilities have a broad range of individual situations and it’s highly complex to come up with standardized processes and procedures of transition that fits them all. The entire system having a full appreciation of the issue these children and their parents face is the first place to start. The support mechanisms should have the least bureaucracy and clearly defined expectation levels. This help parents to seek the help they need and have realistic expectations. Over promising in speeches and underdelivering in actions is the most painful thing our leaders continue to do. School board members as well as staff hiding behind bureaucratic layers to avoid talking to desperate people and addressing their concern head on is a real issue for families with differently abled children. If we address the issues in transition with an open mind and readiness to help, we can easily learn a lot and gain insights into which practices are working and which are not. Then making such best practices indexed based on diagnosis and available to all for reference can be a big help. Staff should be trained to provide counseling and guidance to put such best practices into individual situations. Active involvement of genuine advocacy groups such as SEPTA at all levels is critical and should be welcomed and encouraged.

Elaine Tholen
I would hope that transition planning could be a part of our IEP process. Transitions and times of change are understandably difficult. Perhaps a simple checklist of things to pay attention to or a handbook, like the one for HS students with disabilities transitioning out of FCPS, that outlines ideas to make the transitions easier at each level could be implemented and staff can be trained county wide to use these resources. Special meetings to deal with students in transition with staff and families could help this. Parents need to understand how they can be most helpful to their student during these times. Our parent resource center should be helping with this.

Melanie Meren
I was shocked to learn that there isn’t an available protocol districtwide that helps teachers and staff at schools where students transfer to and from. Furthermore, nor is there a guide for parents to best prepare and understand what will be coming at them and their student during this transition time.

Again, this is an issue of preemptively planning to decrease the likelihood of problems, and make resources consistently available districtwide so the process is known and clear.
There are many ways to provide advanced support to students during transition times, such as: offering individual or small-group walk-throughs of school and time to practice the schedule; making a clear list of documents and information that need to be transferred across schools and when, and who the point people are; understanding how instruction may be different in a new school; ensuring teachers understand how to offer IEP accommodations; knowing how lunch seating is decided.

Laura Ramirez Drain
Increasing the parent role in the development of transition plans is very important. A parent or guardian knows their child. A vision statement of where they see their child or would like for their child to partake in needs to be more integrated in each step of the transition planning process. Of course, as the child gets older and as it’s appropriate to each child, their vision and goal setting to meeting their aspirations is infused in the growth set of each child’s plan. Transition data, staffing and training will need to be considered when standardizing such a plan. Part of the staffing would be a review of adding transition plan counselors that would play an integral role in working with the schools’ staff and families together to ensure successful outcomes. Overall, transition programming needs to be more humanistic, wholistic, integrated into programming and less rote to checks and boxes on paper.

Cheryl Buford
For starters, FCPS should evaluate its parent and student orientation programming. Whether our students are disabled or not, when parents have a clear understanding of school routines and expectations and are assured that their specific insights regarding their children’s well-being will be welcomed, it reduces their own anxiety regarding a transition. When parents are more at ease with a transition, they are more available to help their children, as needed.

There is no substitute for students having relationships with their peers to ease transitions to a new school. According to the Best Buddies International website, 14 FCPS high schools and two of our middle schools have chapters, which is a wonderful starting point. I will look for ways to expand similar programs across the County.

FCPS needs to help all students, irrespective of whether they have a disability, with post-graduation transition. Nationally, 12.7 percent of young adults are not in employment, education or training. Among FCPS graduates, 75 percent start a 2- or 4-year college program, but less than 45% finish in six years. As a school board member, I will ask FCPS staff to disaggregate data on our graduates to see how students with disabilities are faring.

Andrea “Andi” L. Bayer
“As with question #1 on discipline, we must use aggregated date to identify which schools and/or teams are achieving transitioning success stories and then replicate those tactics in schools and/or teams that are not achieving successful transitioning results. Additionally, our schools (via our IEP teams) must partner with parents so that the students can receive beneficial support and reinforcement both at home and at school.

For me personally, beginning each new school year was difficult knowing that I would encounter some bullying and stares from students I did not know. Teaching our children to be of strong character, resilient, friendly, self-secure, and not to be easily offended is key. ”

Rachna Sizemore Heizer
“It is impossible to even begin to address all transitions in 300 words. For the last two years, I have presented a training for parents on these transitions at the FCPS Special Education. My full answers to this question and a link to my PowerPoints from my trainings are here
VERY Short answer here – Standardized the information that must be presented and discussed at the IEP meetings at these critical junctures through the use of checklists for IEP teams and a transition handbook for families, long term post secondary transition needs to be discussed (using a checklist to make sure all topics are covered) starting in 7th grade, ETR and CTS teams involved systematically involved in transition IEPS, when the child is 14 with transition IEPS developed with FULL team participation and with measurable goals and data/progress reports, information given regarding access to Davis/Pulley/STEP (ie not available for those with a standard diploma) in 7th grade, checklists to guide long term planning to ensure timely ask for SAT accommodations and to guide middle school/high school IEP planning with a long term viewpoint, checklist used to guide discussion of the additional executive functioning, social, emotional and organizational challenges of middle and high school, with proactive support. College planning to discuss teaching independence and other skills needed for college. Checklists for IEP teams to discuss organizational, independence, and social needs with middle school, such as using lockers, PE, block scheduling. Pre-K to kindergarten – checklist to discuss would be the difference in availability of settings – gen ed, pull out, non cat for the schools that have it, enhanced autism, and the fact that the kids can be in a combination, the issues of support in specials, during lunch and helping social interaction during recess, inclusion

Laura Jane Cohen
One of my biggest concerns with FCPS is improper and inconsistent implementation of Special Ed policies throughout all grades. The difference among schools is totally unacceptable. All Special Ed programs should be created alike, but they are not.

In our own family, it took us 8 years to get an IEP for our daughter. A few short months later, when she made the transition to High School, after careful review of her IEP and hours spent in transition meetings, she was placed in a GenEd classroom, not a small group SpEd class per her IEP. Luckily, we were able to catch it in the first week of school, but, again, not without tears from our child who feared having to tell all her friends that were in her GenEd class that she had to be moved because she was “”too dumb”” to be in their class. It never should have happened after such careful transition planning and, yet, there she was, one of MANY kids that was placed inappropriately.

We need to add contract hours for our SpEd teams to ensure that these transitions are well planned for and well executed with the least pain and confusion for our kids as is possible. We have to ensure that all team leads in both GenEd and SpEd are well informed prior to transitions so that they are well prepared to be soft landing spots for our most vulnerable kids. Again, incorporating trauma informed education practices for all our staff would also improve responses to the pains of transitions for our students.

Karen Keys-Gamarra
As an Attorney who has advocated for students with disabilities, I understand that planning is critical to assuring that a child thrives during a transition period. It is my goal that students who face transition, will have a Team meeting of their teachers and providers to discuss the needs of that child. This information should not only be updated prior to the transition but the receiving school should be a part of the planning process. The greatest success stories have occurred when the Team has worked to identify the child’s needs, identifies the techniques and supports that have helped the child be successful; and then, this information is communicated to the new team members. The child and their family should also have an opportunity to visit the new school and practice success in the new environment. Post graduation transition planning should include the same processes but allow the child to develop a plan for a career path long before leaving high school. Preferably, our students should have the opportunity to be exposed to a dual enrollment, apprenticeship and/or early work experience that engenders confidence in the student that he/she is equipped for success before leaving the high school environment. Additionally, every student should be provided the tools to succeed by including an emphasis on such life skills as managing one’s finances, understanding transportation and the like.

Karl Frisch
One of the biggest impediments during transitions is the lack of standardized checklists to guide IEP teams in the discussion of new environments and associated challenges. That means assistance with transitions can be wildly different from IEP team to IEP team. Creating standardized checklists will help guide discussions to the types of supports that may be needed and better prepare students for the next phase in their educational careers. Additionally, it is critical that staff from a student’s current and future schools work closely together early on to assist in the transition; this deeper engagement should also be standardized.

This increased standardization could facilitate some of the following efforts (by no means an exhaustive list):

Pre-K to Kindergarten: This is an opportunity to begin working with students and their families on issues like inclusion – especially when it comes to providing supports for specials, recess, lunch, and after-school activities. Conversations should also begin with parents about the VAAP and SOL tracks to facilitate more informed choices in advance of their first SOLs.

Elementary to Middle School: IEP teams should work with students to focus on the greater independence that is expected of students in middle school. That means organizational and social supports for things like using lockers, block scheduling, and physical education. The post-graduation conversation should begin in middle school on topics including diploma options, accommodations for college testing, post-secondary plans, and more.

Middle to High School: The conversation around post-graduation and/or future career topics should become even more pronounced and help inform multi-year planning for class schedules. Attention should be paid to inclusive involvement in clubs, sports, arts programs, and related after school transportation issues. Place greater focus on access to additional support for electives and general education classes.

Karen Corbett Sanders
“Transition planning for students with disabilities has been an area that I has been a concerned since I was the Chair of AAPAC when we did the report on twice exceptional students (2E). Transition planning needs to be integrated into the process of students moving from one teacher to another beginning with students in child find and all the way through to transitioning from high school to college, employment or service. The transition planning process should include a review of the IEP between a child’s existing and the new teacher with the parents. The discussion needs to include a discussion of what works well for the child and does not.

As the Chair of AAPAC, we did a report of 2E students with a focus on concerns regarding times of transition. It is vital that planning for transition be integrated into the process of moving a student from one situation to another, at every step. This process should begin in Pre-K and follow the student from year to year and transition after transition throughout their Pre-K-12 experience. The transitioning process should be a collaborative effort in all FCPS schools that includes and review and evaluation of the student’s IEP with the student, teachers, parents, and administrator so that the student is best prepared for each year as well as the transition from high school to college, employment, or service.

Stella Pekarsky
We need to look at schools and pyramids that are doing a good job with the transition points for students and learn from them. Transition planning should largely be specific to the child’s unique needs. IEP meetings before a big transition will help ensure continuity, staff collaboration, and parental input. Students and parents should learn who their case manager will be before the start of the school year so that they have an opportunity to touch base with any concerns.

Steven Mosley
First, get feedback from SEPTA, parents, teachers, and community at large about what things you believe should be addressed. Next, the transition counselors will meet together to create a list of best practices based on research and feedback from parents. Then those best practices are put in place throughout the county. Finally, teacher/transition Counselor training will be conducted by schools that receive positive feedback from the parents/community in regards to transition.

Megan McLaughlin
As with other areas related to FCPS’ delivery of programs and services, there needs to be greater standardization. All families should be able to rely upon high-quality explicit transitions programming and plans for students with disabilities. In order to achieve this, the Department of Special Services’ (DSS) senior leadership need to conducts a full-scale evaluation of our preK-12 transition practices across our schools. This work needs to include family surveys to ensure strong community feedback. Once the evaluation is complete, DSS needs to provide robust training and onsite staff support to ensure effective changes occur. (During my 8 year tenure, there have been 3 Asst. Superintendents for DSS, so this frequent change in leadership has impacted FCPS’ efforts to improve upon their special education services.) Having been one of primary School Board Members who partnered with the Decoding Dyslexia of VA (DDVA) advocacy group, I am particularly aware of the amazing changes that can occur with special education services, when FCPS leadership and staff listen and collaborate with our parents).

Priscilla DeStefano
I would ask staff to bring data to the school board that would show where students are transitioning successfully, and where they aren’t. When schools and staff can be highlighted for their approaches and protocols, we can work collaboratively with the people involved in the transitions (including parents) to adopt a best practices approach. This would enable us to create and implement a county-wide system to make sure all of our students with disabilities can be appropriately supported during these critical times.

Ricardy Anderson
Transition plans are essential to continue effective and successful strategies for students as they move throughout the county’s schools. Creating a committee to review the most effective transition practices and develop mandatory guidelines for staff to follow will support greater transparency, increase consistency and standardize expectations for students and families.

Abrar Omeish
As I have come to understand experientially, many students with special needs require stability to thrive, as they are especially disturbed by change. The change in just a teacher can lead to regression and/or behavioral reactions. It is critical for expressions of such anxiety as manifest in the “language” of the child to be understood.

FCPS should:
-Provide information about transitions earlier than the usual cycle for teachers and special needs support staff to make plans throughout the year to prepare students better for what comes next
-Include teachers of the following year to join final year IEP meetings to recommend practices and activities
-Ensure the development of self-advocacy skills and capabilities is included in IEP plans and provide supports for students to feel safe enough to apply them
-Actively partner with local businesses to provide apprenticeships/summer opportunities that can turn into jobs for graduating seniors and provide other non-college options
-Collaborate with admissions offices to determine criteria and successful preparatory methods for those who choose to pursue college or trade schools/programs and make such opportunities clearly available to students and families
-Request an annual plan from special education support staff that evaluates all expected transitions and strategizes with instructors a year in advance
-Implement recommendations of the ACSD in their latest annual report to ensure parents receive necessary and concise information regarding successful transitions
-Continue to support the efforts of Transition Night and ensure all families are made aware


Question 4:  Staff Support: Our FCPS special education staff express frustration with the overwhelming demands of paperwork, planning and classroom instruction for their high caseloads of students, each of whom has a unique IEP to address their individual needs. How do you propose FCPS could better support our special education teachers, related service providers, and support staff? How do you propose administration improve support and understanding for general education teachers who are also responsible for addressing the needs of these students?

Read Candidate Responses


Elizabeth Schultz
As a Board Member, I have already worked across several DSS Assistant Superintendents to address the IEP process itself and the demands it places on staff in the building – not only from the staff perspective, but also from the overwhelming perspective of parents walking into an IEP meeting facing a seemingly wall of staff by virtue of their sheer presence in numbers. By working with FCPS leadership, the effort has been to streamline to the greatest extent the need for staff members to be present in IEP meetings – or to be present for the full meeting – to reduce the pressure on their schedule and time out of their classroom.

In addition, the goal of eliminating half-day Mondays was not only state SOQ compliance in every school, but also to build in protected teacher planning time at the elementary level. If that time is not currently teacher-directed – allowing time to plan to meet the needs of all students, including addressing needs of students with IEPs – then an audit of teacher planning time and whether that time is being absorbed back by administrators should be considered. Itinerant support personnel limited to part-time positions, split amongst schools, should also be considered for placement in full-time slots at schools where possible. Principals trades should be reviewed to ensure special education positions are not be trading inappropriately for other desired support, e.g. front office positions, is also a report the Board should establish as an expectation from staff.

Ensuring that professional development is teacher-led and is meaningful is also crucial. The Board must set expectations with the Superintendent and staff that as much of the PD as possible supports the teachers, from their perspective, regarding what they need to meet the diverse student learning in their classrooms.

Asking educators how they could best be assisted – rather than presuming a solution – should be built into the annual cycle of any additional central office support.”

Tom Wilson
Please see my answers above to my general approach and priorities regarding these issues. There is no question about it. The burdens on special education and related staff are huge.These are the teachers and professionals that we have the most trouble recruiting and retaining. This is why, again, I must emphasize the need for the School Board to have priorities in terms of spending that align with what is happening in the schools themselves and in homes throughout Fairfax County. Special education teachers, related professionals, and parents need more help!

I also must emphasize again the importance of allowing teachers and administrators to be flexible in how they handle various tasks, such as IEP meetings, while at the same time staying within the parameters of special education law, of course. For example, not all IEPs are the same. Some of these meetings are short and perfunctory, while others may require multiple hours. Could some be completed all in one “”IEP”” day, say on a teacher work day? Another solution might be to pay each school’s special education “”team”” to return to school a week early. We need to do more problem solving to get teachers and related professionals out of meetings and back in the classroom where they are needed to provide instruction and therapy. This would help both special and general education teachers.

I have also brought up with the Superintendent the problem of staffing ratios and the need to allow more flexibility there. When I talk to special education teachers, this is something that comes up frequently. They are often in situations where the particular mix of kids does not correspond well with the number of staff. Sometimes 6 children with similar ages and developmental levels can work well as a group with a teacher and an aide, but then a 7th child with completely different needs is added to the class, throwing everything into chaos. Here again, we need a more individualized approach.

Vinson Xavier Palathingal
When it comes to teachers in general, hiring the best, empower and trust them with their classrooms, to design, to develop and to execute their classroom plans while keeping the administrative burden to the minimum, is my policy. The same approach is what I consider will work well in the special ed community as well. Once we have the best special ed teachers in required numbers and we trust them with their special needs students, the need for extensive bureaucratic paperwork can be reduced. Parents should be able to talk to their child’s trained special ed teacher without feeling overwhelmed and intimidated by having to deal with a group of people whom they have not met before. Streamlining the processes, setting clear expectation and being fully transparent about all the facts can help. General education teachers who are tasked with dealing with special ed students should have access to expert guidance from the special ed teacher. Providing necessary training to the general ed teachers who are dealing with special ed students can help avoid missteps from the general ed teachers due to their lack of professional knowledge of the special ed situations. Keeping parents proactively involved and committed in the individualized plan throughout is also very critical.

Elaine Tholen
Our special education staff caseloads are usually very large. Besides teaching and providing services to these students, staff are also required to put together extensive reports on what is being done, student progress, etc. This reporting is essential. We need to look at ways to provide administrative support to these professionals for this reporting process. Currently parent meetings are usually held after school and teachers are filling out the paperwork in the evenings and on weekends. Setting up ways to have teams of professionals responsible for each student to have time to compare notes and collaborate on the best services and to collaborate on the reporting that goes along with those services is necessary. This way parents getting these reports can have a better, fuller picture of the student’s overall progress and the workload can be distributed across more people.

Melanie Meren
Again, I offer this refrain: we need more trained staff, and more staff, so that IEPs are appropriately implemented, reviewed, and updated to create optimal learning situations.
I explored the reality of our teachers’ overwhelm when I co-chaired the Human Resources Advisory Committee to the School Board this past year. Our teachers are tasked with too many responsibilities to fit into a school day. I believe that decreasing class size can help ease the overwhelm, and mitigate many challenges and problems we face. It is unrealistic to expect teachers with two dozen or more students to have the time to be prepared and focused on IEPs. Decreasing class size is a start to decrease their workload.

However, it seems time to reconsider the roles that teachers and staff play in implementing IEPs. Is everyone’s role clear to all participating adults? Is there a clear process for sharing information, then documenting it? How long does it take to appropriately implement an IEP? Is the Case Manager’s role effectively designed? This kind of data gathering can help us create a better situation for teachers in all grades – which ultimately benefits our students.

Laura Ramirez Drain
We need to stop scheduling and working as separate and distinct departments with limited interaction and cross departmental articulation. Yes, we need to have departments that focus and specialize in specific areas but we also need to afford the time and training to work together. Educating our children shouldn’t be taken as an assembly line- approach. Cross departmental teams need to be established and staffing and scheduling data need to be reviewed. Most of all we need to review the duties and additional obligations assigned to related service providers and special education teachers. One aspect brought to my attention is the training and requirement of special education teachers and related service providers to also conduct educational evaluations, interpret evaluation data and provide interpretive conferences with staff and parents in a variety of meeting settings. I feel we need to look at their caseload demands and ensure there isn’t a disproportionate amount of time to students and IEP obligations to the additional obligation to fulfilling evaluation requests. Data will need to collected or current data reviewed with procedures on how evaluation caseloads are assigned. From what parents have expressed to me, there appears to be a significant amount of Independent Evaluations being paid at public expense because parents and guardians don’t feel the evaluations were adequate and/or comprehensive. Serious consideration needs to be taken to their concerns. Especially if the data indicates we have an increase in spending of contracted staff salary and paying out to Independent Evaluators. It’s not only wasteful monetarily but it’s wasteful to the student and staff. I’d have to also ask, is the administrative staff providing the necessary in depth training and time to the teachers and service providers, in order to effectively complete these very important evaluations.

Cheryl Buford
FCPS should support special education staff, related providers, other staff, and teachers serving students with disabilities by looking at their schedules in their entirety and then asking teachers for input on what would be most helpful to them in lifting some of the administrative burden and paperwork. Professional development should be teacher led and meaningful. I know from personal experience as a teacher with a schedule split between two schools, the burden caused by the extra travel time, as well as the added organization required to make sure I had all my teaching materials with me at each building.

It is important to review paperwork requirements, and limit anything that is extraneous. Given mandatory reporting requirements, the paperwork will still be considerable. Thus, providing assistance in completing routine tasks could free up some additional time for completing administrative tasks. The trend over the last ten years has been to increase the instructional staff and decrease the support staff. According to Virginia Department of Education, between 2008/9 and 2017/18, the number of instructors increased by 1,469, but the support staff decreased by 620. As a board member I will look into the cost and benefit of increasing support staff positions.

Moreover, limiting and/or streamlining meetings, including IEP meetings, would also free up precious time. Limiting meeting requirements to have every teacher attend the full IEP meeting has the added benefit of being less likely to overwhelm the parents. Teachers may also find it helpful to receive professional development on how to facilitate an effective meeting.

Andrea “Andi” L. Bayer
The IEP process is overly burdensome, time-consuming, and daunting for teachers and parents/families. Regarding ADD/ADHD, we need to take a serious look at how we diagnose, cope with, and educate our kids. As our schools and classrooms become less and less structured, I see our kids struggling more. I also know that our teachers are beyond over-burdened and struggle constantly with discipline issues. Just watch the video from the FCPS School Board Budget Public Hearing from May 14, 2019.

FCPS and other school districts must begin to demand that our myriad schools of education all across our nation do a better job of preparing our teachers. I recommend parents, teachers, administrators, and interested persons read, “”The Politicization of University Schools of Education: The Long March through the Education Schools, by Jay Schalin of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

Worth noting, there is only a 48% first-time pass rate all US teachers vying to achieve state teaching licenses. For minority test-takers, there is only a 36% pass rate for all combined attempts at passing teacher licensing exams. This is unacceptable, and schools need to demand better! Education students and grads also should not be happy with these statistics.

For my oldest daughter who had ADHD, I opted to home-school her for grades 3 – 5. I allowed her to release energy by running each day and I played calming background music during lessons. I also taught her strategies to aid focus, self control, and learning. She also did chores in between lessons, participated in daily community sports, and played outside. She was then able to be highly successful in junior high and high school and was on Oakton High School’s Varsity Cross Country, Indoor & Outdoor track teams all 4 years at OHS. This success afforded her the ability to pay for her own tuition at William & Mary via an ROTC scholarship and RA & Head Resident jobs. She is now a Black Hawk pilot in the U.S. Army.

Rachna Sizemore Heizer
Full answer link here

Short Answer – The reality is that our special education teachers and related service providers have too high caseloads. Some of our SLPs and OTs have caseloads of 50+ students over more than one school. We need more consistent support for the caseload and paperwork demands of IEPs, meetings, progress reports, coordination with central office staff etc. I’d like to see more of this work be part of the role of the special education administrator. We need better training for administrators to know how to support special education teachers to help with some of this administrative work and also to just simple understand the different requirements and needs. General education teachers need to have more requirement to participate in the process of data collection, IEP development, goal development, progress reports etc. This is especially important for those students who spend more time in general ed so the special ed case manager doesn’t know them as well. There needs to be shared responsibility for case management and the paperwork demands. More planning time for special ed teachers. We need to study the “Teacher as Case Manager” model to see if this is the best way. We need more time for gen ed teachers and special ed teachers to collaborate. We need to look at caseloads to make sure teachers do not have too many students they are case managing or that they are not case managing students they hardly know – which is especially an issue at middle and high school.We need to be intentional about how this process (paperwork, data collection, progress reports, IEP development etc) is adapted for secondary school where there are multiple teachers. We need better training for IAs and other support staff to help teach and implement IEP goals.

Laura Jane Cohen
Our SpEd staff is truly stretched beyond capacity at every level. We must find ways to reduce the administrative burden on our teachers. My proposal would be to add additional support staff for our SpEd teachers. I also believe that we may need to look at expanding contract hours for our SpEd teachers as they are spending a ridiculous number of hours working outside of their contract and not being compensated for that time. Support and pay are two of the biggest reasons that we see a high burnout rate for our incredible SpEd teachers and staff. I also believe that training the entire building in trauma informed education would help relieve some of the burden on our SpEd educators, who spend countless hours helping educate our GenEd staff and admins on how to best support our SpEd kids when they are in the GenEd setting or dealing with discipline situations that could be avoided with better training.

Karen Keys-Gamarra
Recently, FCPS has implemented the Team approach in many of our schools. This means that Teachers, Administrators, staff members and support staff who work with the child meet to discuss the child’s needs and identify techniques on how best to support the student’s success. These meetings occur on a frequent basis. This approach, I believe, should help the teacher to feel more supported and help to identify the resources for success. Next, Behavior Intervention teachers should assist in providing professional support for this approach. Finally, I continue to advocate for funding to provide competitive salaries for our staff and reduced class sizes. It is my hope that this collaborative approach and smaller class sizes will be a step in the right direction.

Karl Frisch
In addition to needing an influx of additional special education teachers, related service providers, and support staff, we need to reconsider the case-manager-as-teacher model because when we ask teachers to educate students, manage cases, and support students in general education, we are putting them in a difficult position where unnecessary sacrifices to the quality of each responsibility may occur. In some school systems, for example, administrators are tasked with case management.

Within the current model, administrators need better training so that they can more effectively and consistently support special education teachers in the handling of their caseloads, IEP paperwork, progress reports, etc.

Because many students with disabilities spend much of their time in general education classrooms, general education teachers need to better assist case managers. They should be required to help with IEP and goal development, progress reports, etc.

In high school, we need to make sure that all of a student’s teachers contribute to data collection, IEP and goal development, progress reports, etc. and that their teaching intentionally advances these goals.

Ultimately this comes down to collaboration between administrators, special and general education teachers, service providers, and support staff – which needs to be consistent from development to implementation.

Karen Corbett Sanders
With over 27,000 students with IEPs and over 5,000 students with 504s teachers have more students that need specialized attention. It is not surprising that teachers are feeling overwhelmed. It is essential that we think how we best support our teachers and staff so that they are able to provide a supportive nurturing environment for all students to thrive in the classroom and do not feel overwhelmed by administrative demands. This means that we must re-think how we support our special education teachers and the administration of IEPs and 504s, preserve planning and professional development time for our teachers. We also need to provide socio-emotional supports to our teachers and staff as well. It is essential that school board members are able to meet with SpEd teachers and IAs on a periodic (semi-annually) basis to listen to them about their experiences.

Additionally, I believe we should add IEP case managers to our elementary school staffing similar to the middle and high school level. This past summer we provided professional development on trauma informed classrooms for our general education teachers. During our initial budget discussions this week, I asked the Superintendent to build increased funding in the budget to address these concerns.

Stella Pekarsky
We have a large SPED population and a whole program evaluation is necessary, in the same way we are undergoing one for our AAP services. We need expert evaluation of current practices across the county and suggestions for improvement. In the meantime, allowing teachers greater autonomy over their time is imperative. Teachers also need extra support from behavior interventionists. Professional development for all teachers and administrators, including IAs and general education/AAP teachers, is needed. We also have to prioritize team taught, inclusive classrooms from elementary through high school. Smaller class sizes will help ensure teachers have the time and ability to provide the best individualized attention possible to our students.

Steven Mosley
First step is to listen to the staff and teachers to hear what they need in order to be supported in their roles. Next, I believe administrators should walk in the shoes of education teachers who are also responsible for addressing the needs of these students. I believe the “undercover boss” method will help administrators understand the issues with a sense of urgency.

Megan McLaughlin
While heavy workloads are one of the greatest challenges facing all FCPS teachers, it is particularly problematic for our special education teachers and support staff. Recently, I spoke with a retired Special Education teacher who shared with me the 12 hour days she consistently worked, and how this impacted her morale more than her salary compensation. Without question, I have become increasingly more aware and concerned about the untenable volume of work & heavy caseloads during my 8 year tenure on the Board. I am equally concerned about the loss of special education teachers within their first 3 years of service. Thus, I would like to propose a Focus Group consisting of current and retired FCPS Special Education, and General Education teachers, so that they can help identify what’s contributing to the heavy workload and the lower retention rates, and what potential solutions can help alleviate these issues. In addition, there needs to be stronger professional development for our school administrators to ensure proper support as well as more accurate teacher evaluations

Priscilla DeStefano
I would ask this question, “”How do you propose FCPS could better support our special education teachers, related service providers, and support staff?”” directly to special education teachers, service providers, and support staff. I would like the school board to take a “”bottom-up”” approach, and learn directly from these groups what they need in order to be successful, even if it needs to be done anonymously to capture honest answers about what we could be doing better to support them.

For the second question, again, asking teachers directly where they feel they are lacking support and understanding would be the very first step. Teacher insight is invaluable, and should be treated as such in order to have true collaboration that is effective and meaningful for all involved.

Ricardy Anderson
The demands on special education teachers to handle paperwork, provide students with direct services and manage numerous lengthy IEP meetings can be daunting. To adequately meet the duties of the position, reducing the caseload of special education case managers and/or the provision of additional planning periods are viable solutions to a growing problem.
In my experience, general education teachers are not adequately trained to support special needs in a general education during pre-service. Creating opportunity for collaboration between the special education teachers and general education is critical to student success. Expanding pre-service programs to include a comprehensive course of study in this area will increase general teacher expertise.

Abrar Omeish
My work as co-chair of the HR committee for the School Board quickly revealed that teachers of special needs students are among the most likely to leave the teaching profession. We also observed that special needs assignments almost never attract substitutes.

I propose we:
-Assess the viability of a payment sliding scale where, like other jurisdictions, sped teachers are compensated more for the knowledge required and challenges faced
-Include experience with special needs students and/or certifications, like other states, during the hiring process
-Enhance teacher and staff training on various conditions students may come with and successful strategies of instruction, de-escalation, and accommodation of diverse needs; equip special ed teachers with targeted training for high-quality individualized supports
-Institute mentorship programs whereby newer teachers lean on experienced peers and ensure teacher time is respected to facilitate necessary collaboration among teachers and specialists
-Encourage community participation and public partnerships with organizations and networks of support (e.g. trauma-informed network)
-Put in place mechanisms (like those listed in the previous question) to facilitate a “warm hands-off” between academic years to help teachers employ strategies that are effective
-Provide access to interventionists who have been proven to support special education teacher efforts (Vermont is a good example)
-Incorporate Universal Design for Learning Approaches into professional development to help general education teachers make education more accessible
-Work with partners in Richmond to remove the funding cap for support staff
-Include detailed activities and initiatives relating to special education in the Strategic Plan and plans for more holistic measurements of student success”


Question 5:  Restraint and Seclusion: As you know, the use of restraint and seclusion on any students including, disproportionately, those receiving special education in FCPS, is a controversial topic. What are your views on this issue?

Read Candidate Responses

Elizabeth Schultz

Clearly, the lack of documentation and systemic training, support and oversight over time has left educators unsupported, students at risk, parents fearful and the division exposed.
While an unconventional response, I have advocated that the Board should have its own, independent attorney. There are situations in which, I believe, the advice and guidance that the Board would receive from its own attorney may be different than that which a Superintendent would receive. Areas which require our greater oversight and governance may demand more detailed accountability from the Superintendent on, for example, special education. It is possible that a separate review of requirements under federal and state law reporting from its own attorney may have revealed to the Board earlier the inaccurate federal filings. Risk to highly vulnerable student populations may also be an area suggested by an independent attorney for increased vigilance by the Board in its review and governance of the Superintendent and staff.
Regarding the practice of seclusion and restraint itself, immediate cessation may seem like a desired solution but it is likely an impractical one. The safety of educators and other students is at issue, as well as the dignity of students expressing behaviours which may necessitate ensuring their privacy in a crisis situation. I don’t believe the Board has all the answers for definitive path forward until the panel completes its work, but enhanced PD and access to support from DSS and others – without recrimination for seeking that additional help – should be immediately in place. Access to a reporting hotline must be widely advertised so employees are aware the opportunity exists to confidentially identify unsafe situations or environments and that such reporting will yield an immediate response for the safety and well-being of employees and students alike.

Tom Wilson
My view on this subject is that the use of restraint and seclusion in FCPS should be prevented as much as possible. To find out the best way to do this, we do need to know all the details of the current crisis, which we do not know yet. However, there are still things that can be said about this issue. We need a culture in FCPS where a teacher or administrator can call for help in a situation without fear of reprisal on their performance review or in any other way. I have proposed that FCPS has a “”rapid response team”” of behavior experts that can imbed themselves into classrooms where there is challenging behavior going on. Now I know above I said I don’t want more “”experts,”” but the difference here is that these experts would be working with the children! We need more people in classrooms, not sitting in meetings and in office buildings. Behavior issues are very individual to the situation and the student and need to be dealt with on site. I would like to see these professionals stay in a classroom for several days, or parts of days, and then return after a few weeks to see how things are going.

We also need to have a preventative mindset rather than one where we are always reacting to things after they happened. I need to emphasize flexibility again here. What if the issue is fire alarms, the lunch room, or the play ground, just to name a few possible triggers for some children? Administrators need latitude to make adjustments and do things differently in certain situations, while at the same time following all laws, of course. As a lawyer, I am often surprised by what many people seem to think are “”laws”” that cannot be broken, whereas they are often procedures that can be altered to some extent. Let’s not cause behavior problems that can be prevented! “”This is the way we always do it”” is not a good excuse for not being flexible but one that is often given. This is a big paradigm shift for a huge organization, but I believe it would be extremely useful.

Vinson Xavier Palathingal
Use of restraint and seclusion are not acceptable methods for any students in my opinion. Using such methods on special ed children is outright cruel. Having no more such occurrences in FCPS should be our ultimate goal. School board being the people’s representatives with a responsibility to provide leadership to people, have a moral obligation to make sure such practices are seriously addressed. Making the executives know that the school board is tough on these issues and will not tolerate any lapses from FCPS is the proper oversight responsibility of the school board. The current school board has failed in providing such oversight and leadership, and that’s why such practices are still frequent. The system should have a transparent and thought out policy with expectations clearly set. All disciplinary involvement from FCPS staff should be recorded and reviewed by experts on a regular basis for proactive corrections and feedback.

Elaine Tholen
Restraint and Seclusion should only be used in an extreme situation where the teacher determines that there is danger to other students or staff. Safety of all students and the student in crisis must be the first priority. Staff and behavior interventionists need to be trained in other practices to de-escalate the situation and handle the student. Full communication and data regarding the use of these procedures needs to done immediately and accurately.

Melanie Meren
There needs to be a clear and narrow definition, training and guidance, and reporting requirements for Restraint and Seclusion – with the understanding that preemptive tactics should be implemented before this escalated interaction is needed.
Someone needs to be explicitly tasked with regularly monitoring and analyzing data and ensuring it is accurate – and this shouldn’t be something that waits for a year to go by before we see an issue. Data monitoring and review should be continuously happening to catch problematic use of this tactic before it repeats and more damage is done.
Having rooms for Restraint and Seclusion is heart-breaking. I’m horrified thinking of children – young kids especially – alone and upset in a room. We are not a school system that embodies that.

Rather, we can create quiet spaces or opportunities that fit students’ needs – it could be providing options to walk outside, run a lap on a track, sit quietly with a trusted adult, or something of the like. Teachers should be there to support the students while having this down time. As an advocate for connecting learning with nature, I believe we can use the power of nature on the mind and body to help students who need time to reset.

In conclusion, we need many improvements to better serve our students. I’m here to listen to you and work with you to do what’s best – you are the experts as parents and advocates. As a member of SEPTA, I believe in and support what the organization does. I am ready to work with you.

Laura Ramirez Drain
There is nothing controversial about ensuring the rights and safety of our students’. It’s our duty to review the available data and documentation in an effort to develop a timeline of program management, training opportunities and staffing. If the data and documentation is limited, then we must engage in dialogue with administrative leadership to find out why this has happened and implement change. Documentation and data is needed to meet organizational requirements but they are also progress monitoring tools. The information gleaned is crucial for positive student outcomes.

With a 2.9 Billion dollar budget, priority must be made to our students. Our staff must receive the most current research validated training and support by administration that have also been trained. Our teachers and related service providers need to be supported by organizational leadership. It seems a great deal of the responsibility in meeting our students unique needs have fallen solely on the teacher How has this become the norm? Accountability should encompass the entire organization. Our students need the support from all staff and most of all excellent administrative leadership to lead and implement high quality inclusive instruction in a positive learning environment. As we know, environment and the positive interactions with all staff through out the day make a big difference in the development of a child’s immediate and long term perceptions about their abilities and school. We need to revisit how we are implementing positive behavior supports across all settings. The incorporation of the parents/guardians in that planning will assist in providing additional consistency in meeting students’ needs.

A review of the related services staffing data should take place. Pockets of need should be identified. Both MTSS and RTI data should also be looked at and a dialogue of comparison and overlapping services should be considered.

Cheryl Buford
FCPS clearly has issues that need to be addressed relating to the use of seclusion and restraint as well as data collection and parent notification. Just this week, three mothers joined together to file a lawsuit against FCPS on behalf of four children they claimed had experienced discrimination, trauma, and physical harm due to the excessive and improper use of seclusion and restraint. This lawsuit follows an investigative report by WAMU in March 2019 that revealed FCPS failed to report hundreds of cases to the government.

As a result of WAMU’s report, FCPS undertook an independent review of its seclusion and restraint guidelines, training, and reporting. The Washington Post reported on October 8, 2019 that FCPS has finished an “independent review of seclusion and restraint guidelines, and added staff, increased training and appointed an ombudsman for special education.”

Seclusion and restraint should be a tactic of last resort and limited to those occasions when a student is putting himself/herself or others in danger. Long before the situation gets to this point, teachers and staff should be thoroughly trained in strategies to de-escalate problem behaviors. Certainly, increased professional development and support for teachers are critical. Once the findings of the evaluation are made public, there are likely to be a number of recommendations on the way forward.

Andrea “Andi” L. Bayer
“I do not believe restraint and seclusion should be used as a form of punishment. However, restraint and seclusion may be necessary and appropriate in situations where the safety of the student, staff, and/or other students is at risk. It appears that the on-going situation within FCPS was the result of many chronic, systemic, and operational failures that led to a breakdown of reporting, oversight, monitoring, and training, as well as lack of necessary and effective supports for staff.

FCPS need a full audit of its Special Education Program to assess what led to our recent failures to adequately support our teachers, protect our students, accurately inform our parents, and quickly identify problems before they were allowed to continue and escalate.”

Rachna Sizemore Heizer
Full answer link here

Short Answer – Restraint and seclusion are very traumatic and can be very dangerous, especially prone restraint that has led to deaths. So this is a very serious issue – especially considering the failures of FCPS regarding proper reporting to both the Office of Civil Rights and parents. There is little evidence that restraint or seclusion helps a student learn proper behavior management techniques but rather causes trauma, fear, school avoidance and other behavioral issues and can amount to child abuse when inappropriately done. Staff needs proper training in behavior modification, positive behavior techniques, de-escalation techniques – important to use things like PBIS, multi-tiered systems of support, deescalation, etc – to prevent behaviors from escalating in the first place. If a child needs to be removed from a classroom, that cannot include isolation in a seclusion room but supported removal to deescalate (ie not sent to a room alone but removed to be with a staff member trained in de-escalation and behavior intervention). We should not allow restraint unless as a last resort and not unless absolutely necessary to prevent imminent bodily harm, minimally used and we must ensure all tactics – positive behavior modifications and de-escalation techniques were used first. We must prohibit seclusion. We need more support for our teachers and staff – more behavior interventionists, administrators with training to help, and more oversight. Our current policies are much to vague and open to interpretation regarding when R&S may or may not be used. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed through better policy, training, support and oversight. Guidelines must be clear and strict. Better placement options designed for today’s complex disabilities. And reporting must be accurate.

Laura Jane Cohen
I’m horrified to read about the restraint and seclusion abuses in our SpEd classes and CSS sites, but we have been hearing these complaints in our ACSD for a long time. We do not have enough staff in SpEd and often leave our most vulnerable teachers and most vulnerable students with little to no support which can often turn “”bad”” situations into horrific situations.

As a frequent substitute in our ID classrooms, I was been bitten, kicked, and hit and I certainly understand there are times when our teachers have real fear for their students and themselves. My goal would be to see us incorporate Trauma Informed Education to help our educators and admins learn to identify triggers and help students before they ever get to this point. If we add more behavior interventionists, we can do a better job of having behavior plans that ensure that all staff know what to do to be helpful in calming children down and redirecting behavior. I’m very encouraged by programs like Grafton where they have eliminated the use of seclusion and significantly reduced the use of restraint by training staff with these proactive strategies. I am firmly committed to being a part of providing better resources and better outcomes for our students and staff. In school systems that have proactively worked to eliminate restraint and seclusion, we have seen a reduction in SpEd teacher turnover, which must be a further goal for us here in FCPS.

Karen Keys-Gamarra
As an Attorney who has represented children who have experienced restraint and seclusion, I understand that providers struggle to find a healthy approach to behavior concerns. FCPS is working toward improving professional development and providing additional supports to assist our staff members, including providing more counselors and accessibility to psychologists. I also believe that our staff members should communicate with our families regularly to address concerns. We must continue our efforts to achieve continual improvement in this area. I have spoken with many of our staff members who are working with the SPED population and have noted a genuine focus on serving every child by name and by need. Unfortunately, due to pending litigation, I can only speak generally on this topic.

Karl Frisch
One of the biggest challenges facing our school system is regaining the trust of special education parents and their children. For many, reports this year on the use of restraint and seclusion were a wake-up call – but not for these parents.

When the initial WAMU story was published, I spoke with several parents in Providence District who had first-hand experience with our failings on these issues – some whose children were secluded hundreds of times without proper documentation and notification.

After speaking with parents, advocates, and experts, I announced my support for a ban on prone, mechanical, and chemical restraint, and the need to clearly define and limit the use of restraint and seclusion more broadly to incidents that present a threat of imminent, serious, physical harm.

As indicated in a previous answer, it is critical that we do a better job of addressing the behavior needs of our students early on. We need many more Behavior Intervention Teacher Specialists (BITS) so that we can better support special and general education teachers and keep students learning in their classrooms. We also need better training for teachers, administrators, support staff, and school resource officers.

Restraint and seclusion should be used only as a last resort after positive behavior modifications and de-escalation techniques have been exhausted. Its use should be in conjunction with clear guidelines, proper oversight, and timely reporting.

Karen Corbett Sanders
The issue of restraint and seclusion is an important topic to the board and our community. I am committed to addressing parent, staff and community concerns regarding the use of restraint and seclusion. When the parent community raised the issue in March, the board responded immediately and took four actions.

1) held a work session on restraint and seclusion;
2) hired an independent counsel to perform a thorough and independent review of FCPS guidelines and practices including parental notification, data collection and staff training;
3) established a task force made up of community members, academics, external experts and FCPS/County staff that support students with disabilities to focus on researching and identifying best practices and to advise on the development of policy and regulations; and
4) allocated funding for behavior interventionists, a special education ombudsman and professional development for special education teachers, administrators, counselors, instructional assistants, social workers, psychologists, and related service providers.
I look forward to continuing to work with the community to address their concerns on this important issue.

Stella Pekarsky
Every child deserves a safe, nurturing learning environment. Professional development in multi-tiered, evidenced based behavioral approaches and increased behavioral interventionist supports are essential. I do not support traumatizing techniques like seclusion of any child. The use of restraint should be a last resort when a child is a threat to himself or others. There should be clearly defined guidelines for its use and staff training so students are not hurt. Transparent communication with parents and staff regarding the use of restraint is essential. I am eager to see the suggestions that result through the Restraint and Seclusion Task Force.

Steven Mosley
I believe we need to first address why FCPS did not disclose that students were secluded/restrained. Secondly, we need to make sure FCPS uses a system like Maxient or other Behavioral Management Systems to ensure that there is proper and consistent documentation of restraint and seclusion so that this misreporting of restraint and seclusion does not happen again. Third, we need to begin pilot programs around the county in which certain schools ban seclusion and only practice restraint when necessary. Then replace seclusion with other strategies that are supported by SEPTA, teachers, and administrators.

Finally, I believe restraint and seclusion should only be used in emergencies.

Megan McLaughlin
As current member of the School Board, I am deeply sensitive to the community’s concerns related to the use of Restraint and Seclusion in FCPS schools. I fully support the work being done by the FCPS Task Force, and will continue to promote the incorporation of evidence-based practices, more extensive professional development, as well as a comprehensive reviewr of our schools to identify where additional training and/or staffing supports are needed. I am also looking to the School Board’s Advisory Committee for Students With Disabilities (ACSD) to help review the Task Force findings and recommendations.

Priscilla DeStefano
Restraint and seclusion should only – ONLY – be used in the most dire of circumstances. To traumatize a child by restraining them by force and secluding them from any contact with anyone should not be taken lightly, and any inappropriate use of these actions is completely wrong. My brother was repeatedly thrown into seclusion as a pattern of habit, not because it was necessary, and I’ve heard and read about similar stories, as well. All staff throughout every school, from teachers, to custodians, should be trained on special needs behaviors, how to deescalate situations, and how to intervene appropriately so that school communities can work together to support our students with disabilities so that they rarely – if ever – have to use seclusion and restraint.

Ricardy Anderson
As a former school administrator, I have always advocated to maintain on-site staff specifically trained in safely addressing extreme behaviors exhibited by students. I continue to claim that schools should be equipped with behavior specialists who can train and support school staff during student periods of crisis. Instituting regular training for general education teachers, special education teachers and assistants to be able to identify triggers that result in disruptive behaviors, de-escalate behaviors using research-based strategies and using alternate methods to restraint will increase the safety of students and staff.

Abrar Omeish
No, no, and no. First and foremost, it is inappropriate that such realities were not reported for moral reasons first and for legal ones as well. This reveals deeper problems of which the seclusion and restraint matter is only a symptom. I am in favor of eliminating seclusion and reappropriating its facilities to de-escalation rooms or spiritual centers where students are encouraged to develop healthy coping mechanisms and habits. The permanent damages and trauma of this practice are well-documented.

I would also like to officially designate restraint as a plan z method. The frequent resort to these methods suggests a larger issue related to lack of understanding of the ways to engage with students who think or express themselves differently than some of us might. This again demonstrates the need for more adequate training and alternatives to quick and easy discipline like trauma-informed approaches and positive behavioral interventions/supports.

Undoubtedly, it is crucial to hold those who knowingly break laws and violate policies for expediency accountable. We must work restoratively and relationally with all staff and students and we must not tolerate unethical or dishonest conduct and reporting. I am committed to, even when in office, admitting to fault and identifying weaknesses where they are so that we all heal and move our community forward. I cautiously look forward to leading an effort that places the burden of proof, in matters of abuse, on the school system rather than on parents, especially in cases where attorneys and resources are not accessible. Still, I am also mindful of the difficult work here and want to ensure fair processes are afforded to not only families but to staff as well.

Overall, disciplinary procedure in FCPS must be reformed. We not only educate our children, we raise them. We must provide a safe and encouraging environment that helps students first understand their mistakes and then learn habits to improve.