Accelify Blog

Special Ed Program Faces Cut (MI)

June 1, 2010

Detroit Public School parents of severely disabled students are outraged over a plan to reduce summer school programs.

The children, many of whom use wheelchairs, are nonverbal and with severe cognitive impairments, have attended summer programming five days a week just like other students, but parents got notice recently that programming for their children will be offered no more than three days a week.

"They just throw our kids away because they think they are retarded or they think (school) is not helping them," said parent L ori Copeland, whose son Jamil has cerebral palsy and needs the weeklong physical and speech therapy so he doesn’t regress. "They are saying … our kids can’t talk, can’t speak up for themselves and can’t walk so they are nothing to society but a burden."

The reduction for the most needy students is not unique to Detroit, with Wayne and Oakland counties already implementing changes and Macomb considering doing so next year. The moves are in response to the state reducing the minimum number of programming days for students with severe cognitive impairments and severe multiple impairments.

Intermediate school districts, which provide administrative and instructional services to the local school districts fund education for severely impaired students year-round, but budget strains have forced some ISDs to only fund the minimum requirement of 200 days, resulting in summer program cutbacks.

Wayne RESA, which pays for Detroit’s programs, previously funded five days of programming in the summer to students countywide for a total of 215 days for the year, but now Wayne’s intermediate school district will fund three days for a total of 200 days.

A countywide 3.5 mill special education assessment pays for the programs. But as the cost of paying for programs — from teacher aides to therapists — has gone up, property values have gone down. "The millage is running out and we are tightening things up," said Kevin Magin, Wayne RESA associate superintendent for instruction.

Though Wayne RESA won’t fund more than three days, DPS is looking for other funding for the remaining two days for the 700 students who are severely impaired, DPS spokeswoman Kisha Verdusco said.

"It’s important for us to continue to offer the full range of programming for our most impaired students, some of whom, research has shown, can regress if kept outside of the classroom setting for too long," Verdusco said.

The changes affect only students with the most severe disabilities. Their programming is funded differently than summer school, she said.

"The vast majority of special education students in DPS — about 10,000 — will still attend summer school five days per week, with instructional support in their classes," Verdusco said.

The 2008 change in state rules reduces the minimum days of programming from 230 to 200, while keeping the hours the same at 1,150 for the children with the most severe impairments. Even before the reduction, area school districts were operating below the 230 days through state waivers or program modifications. Wayne had 215 days, Macomb 218 days and Oakland had 220 days, according to state records.

Since the change, Oakland Schools has been reducing programming days at its centers to 200-210 days.

"We want to give them absolutely everything they need and want, but there’s a reality, too," said Kathy Barker, director of special education for Oakland Schools.

Macomb Intermediate School district is staying pat at 218 days with four to five days on average for summer programming, but acknowledges it is considering a reduction.

"Now that the rule is 200 most of the ISDs will go to that," said Beth Alberti, assistant superintendent for special education at Macomb.

Wayne RESA began the reduction last summer in Wayne-Westland and Northville to 200 days. And this summer, the reduction starts at its other two districts that offer this specialized programming: Wyandotte and Detroit, Magin said.

Meantime, Detroit parents are wondering how they are going to work if their child is at home and whether their child will regress over the summer.

DPS parent Tracey White, 47, whose daughter is severely disabled, said summer is when Nicole gets more individual attention with therapists and more use of the school’s pool because it’s less crowded.

Copeland plans to take Jamil to the emergency financial manager’s office on the days he’s not in summer programming.

"He’s going to be at the Fisher Building on the 14th floor at Robert Bobb’s office," said Copeland, noting she has a 12-passenger van and will pick up anyone else.