on the ground

Rello-Anselmi defends special ed reforms from District 6 critics

Deputy Chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi talks to families from District 6 at a Citywide Council on Special Education's monthly meeting.

Two weeks into the school year, fears about the rollout of special education reforms are turning into reality at some schools, according to parents and teachers from Upper Manhattan who met with the Department of Education’s top special education official Thursday evening.

But the official, Corinne Rello-Anselmi, said she has “been holding feet to the fire” to make sure that students are getting what they need despite the changes, which are bringing more students with disabilities to neighborhood schools that have served few students with special needs in the past.

The sweeping reforms have been underway for two years now, but most schools are only seeing the changes take effect this year. They were designed help schools integrate more students with learning disabilities into general education classrooms, and in the process bring the city up to speed with research that shows that special education students are more successful when they learn alongside students without disabilities.

Parents, educators, and advocates have warned that the department might be moving too fast and giving schools too little help to make the seismic changes. And at a meeting on Thursday of the Citywide Council on Special Education, a parent group that the city is required to support, some parents and educators said their experiences so far suggested that the warnings were well founded.

Yadira Cruz, a public school teacher and the mother of a sixth grader who has Asperger syndrome, said she sent her daughter to middle school at P.S. 187 in Washington Heights this year expecting the school to meet her daughter’s needs. Her daughter’s Individualized Education Plan calls for her to be in a small class composed exclusively of students with special needs.

But Cruz said her daughter was placed instead into a larger class that contains both students with disabilities and students without special needs. And a week into the school year, P.S. 187 started asking her to find another school, Cruz told Rello-Anselmi, even though she said the options for transferring at this stage in the year are limited.

“They told me we cannot meet her needs, you need to start looking for another school,” she said. “I mean, I asked them, I’m sorry but she has an IEP, and you saw it. This is a very hard phone call for me to receive. What am I supposed to do?”

Rello-Anselmi directed Cruz to leave her information with department officials, who Rello-Anselmi said would investigate the issue.

But Cruz said she was not confident her daughter would be able to make up for being in an inappropriate placement for the first two weeks of school.

Rello-Anselmi also told an Upper Manhattan teacher that she would look into the teacher’s report of a kindergarten class in which five students with learning disabilities were getting little assistance from a single teacher who is not trained to work with students with special needs.

“I’m curious how five students are sitting in one kindergarten class in one school, very curious, and yeah, I’d be happy to look at it,” Rello-Anselmi said. “People are trying to do the right thing, but they need help. And that’s what this reform is about — supporting the schools.”

But the teacher, who did not identify herself at the meeting and requested anonymity because she feared retaliation from her principal for speaking out, said she has watched several schools struggle to accommodate their influx of students with disabilities. She said she interacts with staff at other schools in District 6 through teachers union activity.

She said she agreed with city officials who said at the meeting that Washington Heights’ P.S. 8 is handling special education particularly well this year.

“But that’s because this school is keeping the status quo,” the teacher said in an interview. “The principal has decided not to change anything.”

The teacher said she didn’t want to see the city roll back the reforms, just create a more robust system to watch over the schools. Rello-Anselmi said each network should have a special education coach trained to help schools “look at the classes, see the needs, and decide what extra resources are needed.”

“The monitoring, it’s not happening,” said the teacher. “When you tell me the network is in charge of managing how the children are getting the services that they need, I’m sorry. … [Schools need] a person who will actually go to the school and say, let me see your program, let me see what you’re really doing.”

When Rello-Anselmi first took overt the special education portfolio at the department, she predicted a “rocky” fall as the reforms rolled out. But so far, she said on Thursday, the number of complaints her office has received so far is small. She said parents with concerns should report them through 311, the city’s public information system, because those messages are routed directly to her office.

“When advocates bring cases to us, or elected officials, or a parent, what we do is we bring it right to the network, and the Office of School Support,” she explained. “We work closely with them to resolve any issue. And we have found out that if there is anybody not responsive, we’ve been holding feet to the fire.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.