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Frederick, MD: SPED reforms needed; "dangerous student behavior has increased"

A months-long independent audit of Frederick County Public Schools' special education services was finalized Thursday, culminating in a 140-page document detailing dozens of recommended changes.

Public Consulting Group (PCG), a private firm based in Boston, signed a $145,000 contract with the Frederick County Board of Education in December to do the review.

The review came at the recommendation of the district's Blue Ribbon Task Force, which formed in the wake of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found FCPS was systematically misusing seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities.

School board members and district leaders have said they want FCPS to go beyond meeting the terms of the DOJ settlement and become a nationwide model for excellence in special education.

So, PCG cast a wide net. Consultants conducted focus groups, visited more than 100 classrooms and analyzed a plethora of data….

In its lengthy report, PCG laid out about 50 recommended improvements to the district's approach to special education. The recommendations — some minor, others major — span five categories.

The consultants said FCPS should overhaul its staffing model, reduce teachers' paperwork burden, bolster employee training and fill service gaps for "high functioning students with autism," among many other changes.

The report acknowledges it may take FCPS up to five years to fully implement its recommendations. It does not give any indication of cost.

The News-Post asked FCPS on Friday if it wanted to comment on the audit. The district did not provide a response…

It said the district needs to bolster its resources and staffing for reading and math intervention. Often, the audit found, special education teachers are pulled away from their classrooms to do this work.

Consultants also recommended FCPS "complete a deep analysis of all student profiles in specialized programs" to make sure each student is in a program that makes sense for their needs. The district has a range of special education programs intended to serve students of different abilities….

The report also found that FCPS didn't provide sufficient services for some students with autism and said the district should expand its program offerings.

This section also detailed behavioral difficulties that some special education and general education teachers said were making their jobs significantly more difficult.

Some teachers told the reviewers that dangerous student behavior has increased in recent years. …
The report said that staff members "are getting injured at a high rate and do not feel they have the tools they need to intervene safely."
Many employees "do not even take mandated breaks because the student need is so high," the report said.

Leadership and Organization

PCG recommended that FCPS make significant changes to the organization of its special education department. The department is currently co-managed by two directors, which some employees said leads to confusion.

The consultants also said the department should develop "five regional school support teams," each of which would serve all schools across two feeder patterns.

Each support team should have eight members, including a reading specialist, a behavior specialist and a "coordinator for inclusion and in-class collaborative instruction."…

The district should provide more opportunities for special education teachers to coach and mentor each other, and do more to "show appreciation" for them, it said. It suggested "special breakfasts" or offering free or reduced-cost access to yoga or meditation classes.

The report also recommended that FCPS develop "a robust, multi-year professional learning plan based on the needs identified in this report," and laid out specific elements that plan should include….


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