Parents protest special education changes
Three residents, some of them parents of children with special education needs, showed up to the March 11 Board of Education meeting to protest the schools’ plan to stop using contracted services through The Center for Children with Special Needs (CCSN) in favor of hiring full-time staff.
“I think this is a colossal mistake,” said John Collins.
Collins, who said he has no relation to Superintendent Dr. William Collins who started working in the district on Feb. 19, noted that it was his first time meeting the new superintendent.
“Unfortunately, our introduction is the annihilation of CCSN and, in my view, the RISE Program … in less than 30 days on the job. I find that completely unacceptable,” he added, using an acronym for the district’s intensive special education program.
The plan, which was proposed by Dr. Collins at the Feb. 25 school board meeting, would save an estimated $206,000 by moving the district off of CCSN’s contracted services.
“The intention is to have five, full-time board certified behavioral analysts in district, rather than what the design is right now, which is multiple part-time BCBAs [Board Certified Behavior Analyst] four days a week,” said Dr. Elizabeth Hannaway, who heads the district’s special education program.
She said there would be “overlap” to help families transition over to the district-run services.
“Is there a thought that any of the BCBAs who we have contracted with would have an interest” in joining the district, asked board member Sharon D’Orso.
Hannaway said she had not asked any of them. None of the positions have been filled with new hires yet. Hannaway said she’s received inquiries all over Fairfield County for the positions.
“They’ll be part of the teacher contract, and they’ll be subject to the same evaluation procedures,” said Hannaway.
She said the transition over to staff BCBAs would probably take around three months, which could possibly run into the summer with the extended school year.
Jill Hornig, a mother of a high school son with autism, said the three-month transition would be “overly optimistic at best, and irresponsible at worst.”
“My son has had extensive special education needs since he first entered Ridgefield Public Schools as a three-year-old,” said Hornig.
Her son’s last transition from middle school to high school took place over eight months “with high school staff visiting middle school to observe, practice, and learn his program,” she added.
Dan Primavera, a father of two boys with autism, said he felt the change “seems to have been decided rather quickly.”
“In my opinion, it’s a huge gamble to completely remove CCSN from the RISE program and replace them with completely different personnel,” he said. “If the gamble fails, it could cost children dearly in setbacks on the progress they’ve made.”
John Collins said the RISE program was built for students susceptible to being placed out of district. In Connecticut, students’ home district is responsible for their special education costs, even if that means their individual plan calls for them to be placed in a public or private school that can meet their needs.
“We bought into this program, we signed up for this program,” said Collins. “The fact that this was done without any stakeholder involvement is clearly just irresponsible.”
“There is no plan, right now, to replace CCSN,” he added. “There’s an idea of what we might do — there’s some budget figures on a line item, but you tell me who is going to train the para[professionals]? No one other than CCSN has ever trained any of our paras … If you think that $206,000 is worth this decision, I think that you are sadly mistaken.”