Parents and special-ed committee members met with DOE officials tonight at PS 721, a District 75 school in the far reaches of Brooklyn, to ask about two-week delays in middle-school admissions for students with special needs.
Parents spoke passionately of frustrations in getting information about the process; of second-rate attention for special-needs students; of questions long unanswered, from parents, guidance counselors and principals. Many protested the punishing rate of DOE change, and charged that a similar pace -- four major reorganizations in five years -- would likely have cost a CEO in the marketplace his or her job.
Sandy Ferguson, in his first year as executive director of middle-school enrollment, listened with equanimity and responded with welcome candor. "To be frank, we never expected this [process] would run as long as it did," he said. "We did not communicate with parents. This was a mistake and we will look to correct this for next year." According to Ellen Newman, executive director for special ed enrollment, letters went out to parents and to school guidance counselors today, Wednesday -- except for one set that were hand-delivered to The Children's School, which held graduation today (thanks to a coordinated email campaign spearheaded by parent coordinator Roxana Velandria).
One PS 295 parent noted a "general air of secrecy" regarding special-ed placements, and said that "when the general-ed kids got placed first, that hurt more than anything else." (The parent asked not to be quoted, out of concern that she might somehow threaten her child's still-unknown placement.)
Ferguson agreed, saying "It's the thing I'm saddest about. Frankly, we just ran out of time, and [the burden] came out on exactly the wrong folks. It's something I'm not proud of, and something we plan to correct next year."
Broad and deep issues persist -- space, crowding, access, and the practical fact that students with special needs are essentially excluded from a process ostensibly geared to inclusion, as they're not permitted to interview or audition for middle schools along with their gen-ed peers. Whether these issues can be effectively addressed for the coming year is unknown; for this year, it's moot.
But for those who ask, where does the buck stop? Sandy Ferguson answered, loud and clear, it stops at his desk. He's aware of the problems (although he was unaware of their historic dimensions, as special-ed results have been consistently delayed), and seems sincerely committed their resolution -- next year.