Special education services eyed for improvement

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KAILUA-KONA — The Hawaii Department of Education’s new superintendent on Monday said delivery of special education services is among the areas eyed for improvement this year.

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KAILUA-KONA — The Hawaii Department of Education’s new superintendent on Monday said delivery of special education services is among the areas eyed for improvement this year.

But the crowd at the meet-and-greet was mixed as to their confidence in the department’s ability to deliver.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, who took the reins in August, spoke about her plans for those programs and others to parents and faculty at Kealakehe High School.

Part of Kishimoto’s plan to improve special education includes a task force that is kicking off this week charged with looking at how special education services are delivered, what the core program will look like and what funding, staffing or other resources will be needed to enact it.

“So that we’re very purposeful in the design of our special education services,” Kishimoto said.

Carrie Tucker, a Volcano parent of a special education student, said that while Kishimoto mentioned plans to revise the delivery of services, she also wanted to hear about ways to revise what recourse is available for families when schools haven’t been effective in delivering those services.

She said she’s been trying to get her son’s school to help him advance more than one reading level per year — noting she’s spending time and money to supplement the education he gets in school — and that, at this point, the only recourse she feels she has is legal action.

Kishimoto said while the department is developing strategies, it is also rolling out intensive training over the coming two years for special education services in some schools.

“We are assessing where each school is and based on the supports they need, we’re asking the complex area superintendents to work with their principals and identify schools that should be availing themselves of this kind of training,” she said. “So what we don’t want to do is wait till the end of the year to put some things in place now.”

The superintendent added that following her last public forum last week, she’s been working with her team about the process of responding to families’ complaints and concerns about the system.

But at the end of the night, Tucker said she wasn’t satisfied with what she’d heard that night.

“I came here hoping to avoid a legal battle; I was hoping to avoid court,” Tucker said. “And I feel more like my only recourse will be legal … I was convinced today that nothing will change for my son without legal representation.”

One specific outstanding question, she added, was how schools are going to address the behavioral needs of special needs students, saying punishing students for behaviors that manifest themselves as a result of a disability isn’t the answer. She said when staff punish behavior instead of consider what the behavior is expressing, it just makes everything worse.

Still, at least one parent came away believing Kishimoto’s message was hopeful.

Rochelle Hall, a resident of Kealakekua and mother of a Konawaena Middle School student receiving special education services, said she had come out to hear what the superintendent had planned for special education services in public schools.

“I hear that there are parents in that room that had the same feelings I have regarding special education and the students there that receive it,” she said. “I feel like (Kishimoto) appreciated the concerns of the concerned parents and that she would be willing to do what she believes that she can as just one person, sounded positive, sounded hopeful.”

Hall added that she feels confident some changes can be made in the system and that she’s looking forward to seeing different changes happen in accordance with the superintendent’s strategic plan.

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After the night’s meeting, Kishimoto said that while in individual meetings she had been hearing about things that were working, she also acknowledged parents’ frustration with issues like special education services.

“So obviously we want to keep up the stuff that’s going well,” she said, “but we’ve gotta address overall some of the frustrations that are happening with ensuring timely services for our students who receive special education services.”

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