Last night, I was one of 50 parents of students with special needs at a meeting called by Garth Harries, the new Senior Coordinator for Special Education at the Department of Education. Held at PS 199 in Manhattan, the meeting was billed as an opportunity “to solicit informed and thoughtful input from parents as it relates to Special Education.”

The concerns voiced were not new: some untrained (and thus insensitive) paraprofessionals, untrained (and thus ineffective) general-ed teachers, CTT classes that are too large, under-served IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans), and schools misrepresenting parents’ rights, just to name a few. But there were also some bright spots: parents from the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) Nest program (myself included) sung its praises and encouraged Harries to nurture and grow it, and a mom with a vision-challenged child reported her family’s very positive experience.

As was the case the last time I heard Mr. Harries speak, he began with a disclaimer: Although he has no background in special education, he is working very closely with those who do. No matter how many times he says this, it neither diminishes his insufficient qualifications nor inspires my confidence. He is the Senior Coordinator for Special Education, and he has no background in special education. His previous job at the DOE involved closing dozens of schools. The lack of logic here simply baffles me.

Even the way this meeting was arranged was unconventional: very short notice, with no public announcement, and the DOE reserved the right to handpick the participants. Regardless, many parents expressed their hopes that this was only the beginning of an open dialogue and wanted to know how and when and where it would continue.

To his credit, Mr. Harries did talk about the Arise Coalition and its recently published recommendations, and he also talked about the potential for good inclusion programs to help the general-ed population as much as the special-needs population. But for now, it is all just talk. Until Mr. Harries makes a systemic change that is directly responsible for helping an actual child, I remain skeptical.


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