There are about 35 professionals and 65 parent professionals that make up Holt Public School’s special education staff.
But according to the director of special education across the district, Wayne Abbott, it’s enough for Holt.
“We individualize programs and services to the needs of the particular student,” Abbott said.
This is all thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was signed into law in 1990. Across the country, just like students in Holt, students with disabilities are given what is called an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. It’s a federal mandate that many fear is in jeopardy under the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
“One thing you’ll see across all our students is that they get special education support, they get a case manager overseeing their own individual program,” Abbott said. “How intensive that program is really depends on the student and of course, their disability.”
According to Abbott, Holt “aggressively” campaigns for each eligible student to experience what is deemed a “Least Restrictive Environment” (LRE). This means that students within Holt’s various special education programs are encouraged to be placed, for at least part of their school day, in general education classes.
This prepares the students best to follow the rigid standards for receiving their diploma and graduating high school, Abbott said.
“The adult world we’re preparing these kids for is a general education world,” Abbott said. “Segregating them in a special education setting in their K-12 life doesn’t prepare them for independence as adults.”
One thing that Abbott wishes more people knew about special education curriculum is it’s price—to fund their programs, he says it takes about a million dollars out of the school’s general education fund, and money is still tight.
“When the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed in 1975, it was promised that federal mandates would be funded by 100 percent,” Abbott said. “They’ve never been funded at that level.”
What is unique about special education as well is that local funds, such as taxes, cannot be raised to support it in the same way that a general education budget can be raised. Through all the challenges, though, Holt performs for its students well.
“In our students with autism, we have what is called ‘teaming’ on students,” Holt Public School’s coordinator for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Mary Garrigus said. “This is when a core team works with each individual student.”
One of the many programs Holt has found that helps students succeed is their LINKS program, which is based on a model of peer-to-peer support. LINKS has peers working directly with students with ASD in classrooms.
“In elementary programs, we have LINKS. In middle school programs, we also have LINKS,” Garrigus said. “In high school, students can actually take the LINKS class as a credit towards graduation.”
What is unique about the LINKS program, Garrigus said, is that it does not cost any money and it is very successful for students both with and without disabilities. Studies have proven that similar peer-to-peer programs are actually more helpful for the general education students involved.
“The way that we are delivering services can be very expensive, but I’m finding that we’re facing some really good outcomes from that. We see students graduated and moving out into the community,” Garrigus said.