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School Committee Takes A Look at Special Education

Part Two of a transcript of the Dec. 3 School Committee Meeting. For the links to all parts of the transcript, click here.

Brad Brooks (credit: Anne-Marie Fiore)
Brad Brooks (credit: Anne-Marie Fiore)
Part Two of a transcript of the Dec. 3 School Committee Meeting. For the links to all parts of the transcript, click here. 

7:30 to 8:04 (30:00 to 64:00)

Brad Brooks, Director of Student Services, began a presentation on special education in Chelmsford.

He began by saying the main goal of the district is to keep Chelmsford students educated within Chelmsford, which required developing programs such as Autism programs at the Byam and Parker Schools  as well as responding to a changing population of students.

Currently there are 839 students in the district with disabilities, or exactly 16 percent of the district, just below the state average. 755 of those students are educated within Chelmsford.

Brooks then broke down the population of special education students, with some students being in multiple categories. In particular, the Autistic population grew by 10 percent over the last year.

He said that Chelmsford schools remain effective thanks to a clinical psychologist in every building and a well trained special education staff home facilitators and teachers, as well as well trained chairpersons in committees on mediation, conflict resolution and team building.

Unforeseen costs include requests for initial evaluations for parents who do not believe their children have disabilities, new students moving into the district and specialized transportation costs among other concerns.

Presently there are 134 students at the Chelmsford Integrated Preschool (CHiPs) program, 78 of which have disabilities.

Next year, the special education department hopes to review programs  with students who are considered “at risk.”

 School Committee member Barbara Skaar asked about audiologists and their role in classrooms, with Brooks saying that person is a consultant for the team helping special needs students.

DiSilvio asked if the life skills program had been expanded to the high school. Brooks said yes, that it was just under a different name and addressed topics like money management and job skills.

DiSilvio then asked if home school facilitators go off site to homes and whether they go alone for safety reasons. Brooks said they do, and that the department contracts with the Merrimack Valley Special Education Collaborative and those contracts are made for specific time frames.

Brooks also indicated that parents must be inside homes whenever the contractors are there.

School Committee member Evelyn Thoren asked about the term of “home school” on whether students are legally required to be there, with Brooks elaborating that the term should be considered “home to school” as it was additional training on top of what is trained in schools.

Thoren continued to ask if there were online programs used by special education students and whether it would be possible. Brooks said there were none currently and it would be need to be looked at on a case by case basis.

Chairman Rigney asked a question regarding figured with the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative, particularly how long students stayed there. Brooks said that students stayed until 22, although there is currently not a program for 18 to 22 year old students.

Rigney also asked about the last time there was an audit going into different schools and how transitions impact those students.

Brooks said that last March there were meetings at various schools on the topic. 

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