Special education reform, student members discussed at Okemos School Board meeting

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The Okemos School Board sitting to discuss the issues around the district. Photo by Julian Stainback.

Okemos Public School Board of Education held a meeting on Oct. 28 to discuss issues around school construction, safety, special education and hopes of adding a new student member to the district’s board.

First on the agenda was a presentation on changes to special education.

Heather Pricco, the director of Special Education for Okemos Public Schools, discussed the newly added Individualized Education Plan and the 

Pricco said the new Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for students will evaluate children’s learning abilities based on exams, teacher input and parent input. 

“We plan on amending IEPs throughout the school year and we will be reviewing and revising the IEPs and how often they’re utilizing resources,” said Pricco.

Pricco mentioned that there are approximately 40 new students with IEPs this school year.

Pricco said every three years there will be a redetermination for students and their eligibility for special education.

“There is a downward trend in the percent of students with mild disabilities, particularly Specific Learning Disability and Speech and Language Impaired is decreasing,” Pricco said

The percent of students with severe and moderate impairments, particularly autism, is increasing.

Other details that were discussed were opportunities for more student involvement on the board.

“We need to get a student representative on board and sitting at the end of this table as soon as next week,” said Melanie Lynn, president of Okemos Public Schools Board of Education.

John Hood, superintendent for the Okemos Public Schools, said they’ve talked to other districts about the best strategies for welcoming student involvement – especially with high school student’s interests at an all-time high.

John Hood is discussing some strategies on how to improve the district. Photo by Zaria Phillips

“They want to have their voice heard,” said Mary Gebara, a board member for Okemos Public Schools.  “When they feel heard they contribute more… it’ll create more participation.” 

Gebara said, in a call for support, the Okemos Education Foundation is another underrated part of the district experience and encourage more community involvement.

“They’re the unsung hero of Okemos Public School,” Gebara said.  “They are there to solely reward excellence and to support innovation and creativity in our schools.”

Bennett Woods Elementary School will be undergoing an expansion project soon, adding two gender-neutral bathrooms, 40 new parking spots, window safety film and a new multipurpose room. 

Steve Lathrop, operations director for the district said newsletters have been sent out to parents regarding the construction. 

Lathrop explains the construction improvement plan to help eliminate some of the concerns of the parents. Photo by Takiyah London.

Also discussed in the meeting was the Bennett Woods school project.  While the construction is underway to improve the safety of the building, Lathrop said it is a top priority. 

“We’ve been working on this for a while, so we’ll have continual meetings with parents so they can voice their concerns.”

A public hearing is planned for Nov. 14.

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