Students with disabilities decline, 504 plans increase
The numbers of Wilton public school students with disabilities and Planning Placement Teams (PPTs) in the district have decreased since last year, but the number of students with 504 Accommodation Plans have increased, according to the 2016-17 year-end summary of the Wilton Public School District’s special services department.
Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Ann Paul, joined by Assistant Director of Special Services Sharon DeAngelo, shared the year-end report with the Board of Education at its June 8 meeting.
The annual report outlines services provided by the district, as well as some statistics on students serviced by the department.
Wilton’s public schools provide services to students eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) “through a continuum of district supports and services,” according to the year-end report — the goal of which is to “ensure the provision of all mandated services in a manner that is compliant with state and federal regulations, best practices and current research.”
“Students are educated with their non-disabled peers in the general education classroom to the maximum extent as considered appropriate for each individual student, often referred to in the IDEIA as the Least Restrictive Environment,” according to the report.
When it comes to students classified with disabilities, Paul said, “the trends are moving in the right direction.”
As of May 8, the number of Wilton public school students with disabilities was two fewer than last year.
“If you compare our learning disability numbers from 2015-16 to 2016-17, what you’ll see is that in 2015-16, we had 218 students who we classified as learning disabled. In the same period of 2016-17, that number is now down to 190,” said Paul.
“We are very hopeful that this is SRBI [Scientific Research-Based Intervention] getting traction — that the good, consistent intervention with students especially with reading — is really now beginning to pay off for students. We’re really hopeful that this is the beginning of a very positive, positive trend.”
As of May 8, 585 Wilton public school students were classified as having some sort of disability, breaking down as follows:
- Learning disability: 190.
- OHI-ADD/ADHD: 110.
- Autism: 89.
- Speech/language: 61.
- Emotional disturbance: 34.
- Other health impairment: 32.
- Multiple disabilities: 21.
- Dyslexia: 20.
- Developmental delay: 11.
- Intellectual disability: 9.
- Hearing impairment: 6.
- Traumatic brain injury: 2.
Although the numbers of students with autism and emotional disturbances continue to climb in the district, Paul said, she is “very pleased by the learning disability numbers.”
“This is exactly what we were hoping we would see,” she told the education board.
According to the report, there were 12 more Wilton public school students with 504 Accommodation Plans, also known as Section 504 plans, as of May this year than there were last year — 253 in 2016-17 versus 241 in 2015-16.
Here’s a breakdown of Wilton public school students with 504 plans this year:
- Preschool: 1.
- Miller-Driscoll: 18.
- Cider Mill: 30.
- Middlebrook: 76.
- Wilton High School: 128.
Section 504 is a civil rights statute in the Rehabilitation Act that requires “the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met,” according to greatschools.org .
According to the special services department’s year-end report, one of its ongoing initiatives this year was “compliance with legal mandates for special education and 504 students,” which included “evaluation and development of 504 Accommodation Plans for students with substantial disabilities.”
Environments and services
According to the report, in preschool through 12th grade — and sometimes until age 21 — students’ instructional environments can range from general education with or without paraprofessional support to day programs in specialized out-of-district schools.
“The number of outplacements is also moving in the right direction,” Paul told the board.
Fewer students were outplaced this school year than last year, with outplacements ranging from 26 to 30 this year compared to 33 to 36 last year.
Both this year and last, high school students accounted for the majority of outplacements.
Here’s a breakdown of district outplacements during the 2016-17 school year:
- September: 29.
- October: 30.
- November: 28.
- December: 28.
- January: 29.
- February: 28.
- March: 26.
- April: 26.
- May: 27.
- June: 27.
Paul also pointed out that the number of “homebound” students has also decreased — from 20 last year to 14 this year.
These, she said, include “students who cannot access their instruction at school because of medical conditions” and students who “would be unable to come to school because of a disciplinary issue.”
Three of the students receiving homebound instruction this year did so for medical reasons, seven for social, emotional or behavioral reasons, and four for disciplinary reasons like suspension or expulsion.
According to the report, the school district provides “additional services” to students with disabilities, designed to maximize their access to the curriculum and participation in school activities; as well as “related services” that range from speech/language, occupational and physical therapies to special transportation and specialized equipment.
While the number of special education students in the district’s preschool program was “somewhat smaller” than last year, it was still “an active and productive year,” said Paul, “and we anticipate the numbers will go back up to where they’ve been in previous years — if not further.”
According to the report, the district’s monthly preschool special education enrollment — including “itinerants” or students not in classroom — in 2016-17 was:
- September: 23.
- October: 24.
- November: 25.
- December: 26.
- January: 26.
- February: 26.
- March: 29.
- April: 34.
- May: 33.
In the 2015-16 school year, it was:
- September: 31.
- October: 32.
- November: 34.
- December: 33.
- January: 34.
- February: 32.
- March: 34.
- April: 38.
- May: 41.
At the preschool level, children are served in integrated classrooms and through “‘itinerant’ support services,” which means they receive therapies instead of full programs.
For the last two years, special education students have outnumbered “peer model” students in Wilton’s preschool program, according to the report.
Another ongoing initiative of the special services department this year focused on support for staff responding to requests for records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), according to the report.
With the number of FERPA requests “steadily increasing,” Paul told the board, processing and responding to them in a timely manner has been a challenge in the special services department.
According to the report, the district responded to 70 FERPA requests this school year. Last year, it responded to 55. Paul said she believes this represents “a very substantial increase” and she doesn’t see “any way that that’s going to change.”
“FERPAs can be 50 pages and they can be 1,000 pages, depending on the request and complexity of the student’s file,” said Paul.
“It’s not only copying the file; it’s redacting information that is not related to the student. It’s extremely time-consuming and a demanding process.”
When asked why requests are increasing, Paul said she thinks it’s become “almost standard” for parents to ask for a copy of their child’s school records “when they’re having concerns.”
“We are absolutely prepared to meet the challenge,” said Paul, “but it is time-consuming.
Professional development and parent participation
Two ongoing initiative categories of the special services department focused on “professional development for special education, related services and paraprofessionals” and parent participation, according to the report.
Since Jan. 8, 2016, special services staff attended more than 30 conferences and workshops where they received updated information on topics related to their areas of expertise, job responsibilities and/or the unique needs of students and their caseloads, according to the report.
The Parent Advisory Board (PAB) also held two workshops for parents, community members and school staff this year — one in January to help parents understand IEPs, and another in March to discuss 504 plans.
Paul said both PAB workshops were “quite well attended.”
During this school year, according to the report, the PAB also:
- Held an evening social for parents of children with special needs.
- Revised, updated and distributed a parent handbook and information tri-fold.
- Expanded inclusion practices with students’ home schools.
- Continued the Wilton High School Top Inclusion Model Club to “foster and assist in inclusions activities in district schools.”
- Planned and implemented a variety of student activities for Disability Awareness Month in April.
Click here to view the full 2016-17 year-end special services report.