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Hartland School District partners with Arc Livingston, LESA to present Special Education Information Panel

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Representatives from the Michigan Alliance for Families, Arc Livingston, and LESA answered questions from parents, teachers, and board members at a special meeting Tuesday night to identify and clarify how the Hartland Consolidated School District is working to help students with disabilities succeed in the classroom and beyond.

In an invitation to district parents, Superintendent Chuck Hughes noted that a number of community parents had expressed “concerns about how the district works with students who happen to have a disability and their behaviors.” As a result, the Q&A forum was designed as a way to help parents educate themselves in order to best advocate for their children. 

Topics covered included the guiding procedures for special education law, with emphasis on the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education (MARSE) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Additionally, the forum highlighted the legal and procedural safeguards, as well as the ramifications that could arise from the district’s failure to adhere to these guidelines.  Furthermore, the panelists outlined the difference between an individualized education program (IEP) and a 504 plan, the roles of parents and educators in the advocacy process, and a brief synopsis of educator training. 

Hughes explained that Hartland is unique in that every building is equipped with a highly trained social worker/psychologist to navigate “more complex situations.” This is particularly unique given the nationwide shortage of social workers. 

The “more complex situations” in question presumably refer to instances of violent and disruptive behavior, a topic that has been a recurring staple of recent board meetings. In the past few months, several board of education members have made references to alleged incidents of student violence in the district that required CPI Crisis Intervention Training as well as police intervention. Due to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the full extent of any incidents– alleged or otherwise– have not been disclosed to the public. Hughes assured the room that Hartland teachers are well-equipped to handle such situations. All four panelists reiterated that crisis management training has very strict guidelines, and is typically regarded as a last-resort tactic.

The fact of the matter remains that students cannot reach their academic goals when behaviors impede upon their education, which means it falls to both educators and parents to develop varying layers of support tailored to the individual student’s needs. The panel emphasized the vast variety of options– from IEPs and  Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBAs) to additional support staff and social workers– for parents seeking to help children with disabilities navigate school. As LESA Director Adrian Dean pointed out, LESA and Hartland Consolidated Schools both “strive to support students to the maximum extent we can, and this is the core tenet behind any decision-making.”

One attendee (all notecards were anonymous) asked if school board members were eligible to receive special education training. Megan Hickman, Assistant Director of LESA, noted that the Michigan Association of School Boards has training and resources available specifically for board members. Additionally, the Michigan Alliance for Families has a series of various YouTube videos and literature on special education. As one parent pointed out, many parents are are uncertain of how to take the first steps in advocating for their children, making this a valuable resource for  both parents and students navigating the special education system. 

The Arc Livingston is another organization dedicated to  advocacy for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. On a national scale, The Arc is the largest parent-founded grassroots organization in the country. On a local level, The Arc Livingston strives to provide support, information, and advocacy for families and individuals with disabilities. Adrian Dean, director of LESA, praised the organization for its community outreach, opportunities, training workshops, and parent support groups.

Hughes and the panelists were also asked about resources not available in the district that could be implemented in the future. Megan Hickman stated that since she started working with HCS in 2005, the district has quadrupled the amount of special education staff and social workers available to students. Hickman explained that it was not an issue of resources, but rather an indication that new and different solutions are necessary to better the educational experience for students with disabilities.

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