This year we asked each candidate to answer the following two questions
for our SEPAC community:
What is your vision for Special Education in Hingham?
What do you think the biggest issues facing special education in Hingham are?
Their responses are shown below, in alphabetical order. Candidates were given guidelines of 400 words or less for submission.
My vision for Special Education within Hingham is creating an inclusive environment where all students feel they belong and are given the proper learning and social/emotional supports.
Sadly, special education has been underfunded in Hingham for years and our children are paying the price. The demand for services has always been high (and often unmet), but is even higher post-Covid. The learning loss combined with social-emotional needs has increased students seeking services.
More than 40 students have out-of-district placements, which come at a high emotional price for the child and their family (and high financial price for Hingham). In some cases, with proper training and investment, students could be supported and educated within our own community. My vision includes longer-term investments in teacher training and classroom supports, like assistive technology tools for children with language-based disabilities, to provide appropriate services within our own district. The new Foster building is an opportunity for inclusive classrooms and flexible space that could be used for language-based and other programming to keep students in the district.
I would like to see a faster turnaround on evaluations and a less adversarial process overall. Our students can’t wait for the support that the schools should be offering (and legally, must be offering). We need to work with our administrators to keep things moving forward. Out of the 400 students who left last year, how many would have stayed if better supported?
The biggest issues facing special education in Hingham are:
My vision for special education in Hingham is that all students with disabilities will be fully respected, contributing, Hingham citizens. At its most basic, this means students have the right to be effectively educated in Hingham, have opportunities to build meaningful friendships, and participate in sports and extracurriculars, all in their local community. This can only happen if we develop quality academic, social/emotional, and behavioral programming that meets their needs within Hingham Public Schools. Whether they have dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, or behavioral challenges, most students requiring special education services should not have to go to out of district placements or private schools in other communities.
Parents of special education students often feel like their kids are excluded from the mainstream life of our schools and town, and that needs to change. Students who receive special education services should be fully included in the life of the community, and should be fully included in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging work of the district. We must build respect and tolerance into how the larger community interacts with special education students.
We need to improve communication and the IEP Team process to help our schools more effectively meet the needs of all students. Parents of special education students often feel unheard and not respected as full members of their child’s team. Sometimes this is because information is not appropriately communicated, and at times, parents are completely left out of decisions affecting their kids. Team meetings must be facilitated more consistently; many are wonderful, but in some meetings, the school dictated a student’s IEP goals without any parent input. One district wide example is whether to start a substantially separate classroom for students with dyslexia in early grades. Early identification and treatment of dyslexia is crucial to a child’s overall academic success, but removal from the inclusive classroom setting can be detrimental to normal language development. There’s no easy solution; parents of students with dyslexia must be part of this discussion, but are often informed of these decisions after they happen. Consequently, many parents are dissatisfied with their experience with HPS even if they are happy with their child’s services. Parents shouldn’t have to feel like they need to hire an educational advocate to be treated as part of their child’s team, or that they need to pursue a private or out of district placement to meet their student’s needs.
As a husband of a former SPED educator who is now a current chair of SEPAC, the father of a SPED student and someone who has spoken to many parents, I feel strongly that there is much work to be done with SPED services in Hingham. My vision for SPED is that we offer appropriate services to all students in need without having to send students out of district and that parents, students, and teachers regard Hingham SPED as the premier program within Massachusetts. Specifically, there are three issues that I see needing improvement to start to progress toward that vision:
Leadership and Collaboration
The relationship between SPED leadership throughout the district and the community they serve needs significant improvement. From a personal standpoint, each meeting that we have had to this point regarding my child’s SPED needs has been extremely challenging and difficult. If this were a one-off experience, I could understand, but almost unanimously when I speak to other parents of SPED students in Hingham, they offer similar stories. Our district simply does not collaborate well with families to deliver many of the services needed by this population. Parents should not need to hire an advocate, a lawyer, or find their own testing to prove their child has needs. This adversarial mindset needs to change and we should strive for unity amongst all participants in these important meetings.
Communication and Accountability
Another key issue is that district communication lacks consistency and effectiveness. From the DESE SPED survey not going to all impacted families, to emails not delivering digestible messages, there is a need for improvement going forward. Furthermore, in order to enhance communication, we should be looking for semi-annual metrics for evaluation and accountability purposes to better serve the vulnerable SPED community.
Programming and Integration with Gen Ed
From a lack of Orton-Gillingham trained teachers, to limited language-based classrooms in the schools, to paying para-professionals extremely low wages, we simply don’t invest enough to meet the needs of this impacted population. We must also ensure that our SPED department is integrated tightly with general education, so that there is appropriate collaboration and successful cohesion for both teachers and students.
While the district has made progress there is much more work to be done in order to deliver outstanding services to all impacted students. I pledge to advocate for this needed change as a member of the School Committee.
The school's mission should ensure that every child, no matter their ability, race, gender, or economic status receives the respect, support and services they need to be safe, happy and to succeed.
Hingham needs to invest more into developing a K-12 Language Based program. Too many students go Out of District to receive an education because Hingham lacks the ability to service those with common disabilities like Dyslexia. Hingham should be doing everything possible for children with disabilities to be included in our school system. Having more students educated in the Hingham system is good for kids and would also save a considerable amount of money.
I have encountered too many families who have children with disabilities who do not feel respected and supported. One of my primary missions is to build back trust between the Administration and families who have children with disabilities. I will do this by understanding how we spend our resources, by listening to all stake holders and by valuing that every child needs to have a path to success in the Hingham Public Schools. This trust can only be achieved when all the accountable parties accept that they need to do better, are candid about a 1-3 -year strategic SPED plan, and measurable improvements are demonstrated by students on IEPs.
Many parents expressed their appreciation of the dedicated teachers, paras, and specialists in our schools. Hingham is fortunate to have some incredible classroom staff. Building these kinds of relationships becomes more challenging when a student reaches Middle School. Adjustment Counselors, Inclusion Facilitators and Guidance Counselors have huge caseloads, often above what is recommended by the State, and it is very hard for the staff to support each child in an appropriate manner. Not having your child be "a number" as one Dad put it, is a significant challenge in our current system.
I have heard a lot about leveling and how it can limit access to high level classes for many students on IEPs/504s. Hingham's leveling system officially begins in 7th grade. Many students with disabilities like High Functioning Autism, ADHD, or anxiety are not recommended for the higher-level classes greatly limiting their access to AP classes or Physics in High School. We need to look at a more holistic way to understand a child's capabilities and ensure we have support and opportunities for every child in our system based on that child’s abilities.