For the Record: More preschool slots for special education

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Because of the burgeoning number of referrals from Head Start, the 
district plans to open up additional self-contained special education 
classrooms for students with severe disabilities.

Because of the burgeoning number of referrals from Head Start, the district plans to open up additional self-contained special education classrooms for students with severe disabilities.

 

Richard Smith, head of the CPS Office of Special Education and Supports, says by September, the district could have as many as 80 such classrooms, up from 50 it has now. By April 2012, that number could be over 100.

Referrals increased from about 3,000 students in 2009-10 to about 4,500 in 2010-11, Smith says. As a result, not all the evaluations are being done as quickly as federal law requires, but Smith hopes to catch up by assessing about 1,000 students this summer.

The spike in referrals is likely being caused by new Head Start rules that require at least 10 percent of a program’s enrollment to be composed of children with disabilities.

CPS is re-training its evaluators to consider students’ possible placements, Smith says.

•    Students who have mild delays, but don’t meet the criteria for disabilities, will in some cases be re-assessed down the line rather than given special education placements.

•    Children with mild disabilities will generally be put into mainstream preschool classrooms, where an itinerant special education teacher can coach their classroom teacher on how to work with them.

•    Students who need more intensive help from a special education teacher will likely get spots in blended classrooms, where they can benefit from being around “typically developing” peers.

•    As before, those with the most severe disabilities will be put into self-contained classrooms.

Earlier this year, some observers were concerned that budget problems would prompt CPS to close the Barbara Vick Early Childhood and Family Center or other programs that provide Preschool for All classes to a mixture of special education and other students.

That hasn’t happened. But Vick Principal Cathy Lawton says that spots for other students will be prioritized based on income, with students from families earning under $20,000 getting first priority, followed by families earning $20,000 to $40,000, $40,000 to $60,000, $60,000 to $80,000 and (if there are spots available) more than $80,000.