Lt. Gov. Calley says feedback shows need to improve special education

Michigan’s special education programs could be improved in a variety of ways to help students lead self-determined, more productive lives, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley told the Michigan Board of Education Tuesday.

Calley gathered feedback from special education parents and educators through a statewide listening tour and online survey, which will officially conclude in Detroit this week with its 10th stop.

“My goal, and the purpose of this effort, is to make Michigan the best state in which to live, work and raise a family. That means for all families, including those who have children using special education services,” Calley said. “I have heard from families and educators all across our great state and share their feedback today.

“The results of today's special education system often fail students, leaving them unprepared for transition after age 26 and subjected to extreme unemployment,” Calley said. “I am confident that with an approach of high expectations, inclusion and using best practices, we can lead the nation in special education excellence. I look forward to collaborating with the Michigan Department of Education to rapidly pursue this path.”

The tour and survey resulted in five key areas related to special education in Michigan that need improvement:

• Develop a more inclusive and transparent rulemaking process—Michigan needs to develop a better system to inform and engage with consumers of special education services before and during the rulemaking process.

• Improve access to, and the scope and quality of, services—Schools should have services that are better tailored and more effective in meeting the specific needs of the child. Individualized education plans should indeed be individualized.

• End the practices of restraint and seclusion—The State Board of Education has a policy significantly limiting the use of these practices to instances involving imminent danger to a child or his/her peers. This policy, however, does not carry the force of law and is ultimately voluntary. Using the Board of Education’s policy as a starting point, legislation should be crafted that bans the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, except in
certain specified emergency situations.

• Create a better dispute resolution process—There needs to be a free and expedient third-party review and mediation process available to parents for disputes.

• Support parents with more resources and options—A system should be established to ensure parents receive the information they need to understand their rights and responsibilities related to their child’s individualized education plan. Teachers need to be ensured protection from repercussions for speaking up about a child’s well-being, educational achievement or individualized support within a school.

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Final talk tonight

Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s Special Education Listening Tour will stop at Wayne State University tonight to seek input from metro Detroit parents and teachers on their experiences in Michigan’s special education programs. Wayne State University College of Education professors Carla Harting and Susan Gabel, along with Calley and Michelle Fecteau of the State Board of Education, will serve as panelists at the event, which will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the WSU Law School’s Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium.

The Wayne State stop will mark the end of a statewide tour aimed at gathering different viewpoints and insights from residents about special education in Michigan. The results from the forums, along with input provided via an accompanying online survey, will be used to help enhance future state efforts, proposals and outcomes.

“We need to hear about what works and what can be improved,” said Calley. “Every family has different views and experiences with our special education programs, so it is important to visit as many areas of the state as possible and that as many people as possible take the survey.”

Since April, Calley has listened to concerns at forums in Traverse City, Dexter, Indian River, Grand Rapids, Benton Harbor, Center Line, Lansing, Troy, and Redford.

“We are pleased to welcome Lt. Gov. Calley and our community to campus to discuss this very important topic,” said R. Douglas Whitman, dean of the College of Education. “According to the U.S. Department of Education, there has been a growing shortage of highly qualified special education teachers. Combined with persistent reductions of funding to public schools, which service the majority of these special-needs children, this is becoming a state and national crisis.”

Gabel is a teacher education professor at Wayne State. She is known for her expertise in disability studies in education and her research on inclusive education for students with disabilities. She is the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles and edited books. Her latest research focuses on mothering children with disabilities.

Harting is a lecturer and program coordinator for educational leadership and policy studies in the WSU College of Education. She spent 42 years in public education, beginning her career as a special education teacher. Harting then spent 38 years in Wyandotte Public Schools in various positions, retiring as superintendent in 2014.

“This forum is an excellent opportunity for parents, educators, and other interested parties to provide information about what is working in special education and areas that need improvement,” said Harting.    

The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in Structure 1 for $7. For additional information about this event, contact Donna Carroll at 313-577-8116 or decarroll@wayne.edu.