CENTREVILLE — Queen Anne’s County Public Schools is currently recruiting for four new positions in the special education program. The new positions include three teaching positions and one teaching specialist. With adequate staffing an ongoing concern for all programs in QACPS, staffing in the special education program has been provided to meet the needs of all students, according to school officials; and overall, the population of students receiving special education services has declined in recent years. Students are also supported by the Mid-Shore Special Education Consortium, a collaborative effort to support students in Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester counties.
The Maryland State Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Service determined that for the year 2017-18 QACPS “met requirements” for special education. For FY2019, $8,505,988 was allocated for special education programs and service.
The QACPS staffing plan for special education was presented at a recent school board meeting, the purpose of this plan is to ensure appropriate and adequate personnel and resources are available to provide a free appropriate public education for all students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment, said Joeleen Smith, supervisor of the Special Education Department.
During the school year, administrators contact the special education supervisor regarding staffing concerns, Smith said. The special education supervisor or designee investigates the situation, examines relative data, and meets with the school principal and/or the special education team to provide assistance with the use of staff in order to implement a student’s Individual Education Plan.
If resolution of the matter requires the allocation of additional staff or the reassignment of current staff from one school building to another, involvement and approval is required by the deputy superintendent of instructional services. Otherwise, consideration is given for future planning. Additional staff, specifically para educators, are assigned based on individual student needs, she said.
With student to staff ratios an area of concern, not only for parents, but also board members, as pointed out by then member Carrie O’Conner during a spring budget work session and President Beverley Kelley, school officials provided the following statistics.
Student to staff (for special education programs) ratios for last school year and what is projected for the upcoming school year:
2018-2019: 315 students to 33 special educators = 9:1
2019-2020: 384 students to 34 special educators = 11:1
2018-2019: 221 students to 22 special educators = 10:1
2019-2020: 214 students to 21 special educators = 10:1
2018-2019: 174 students and 17 special educators = 10:1
2019-2020: 208 students and 18 special educators = 11:1
2019-2020 numbers are projected.
As parents enter the Queen Anne’s school system their first point of contact would be the school counselor at their respective schools who can then coordinate contact with the IEP chairperson, Smith said. This individual is able to provide valuable information related to programming, related services, and support. Noting during the summer months, schools are not fully staffed which may lead to parents being directed to the Office of Special Education at the Board of Education.
Within the Special Education office, at the board level, Smith said, there are several teacher specialists that are also well versed in programming. These individuals can facilitate scheduling of IEP meetings, collection and distribution of necessary paperwork and files, and answer important questions parents may have.
The determination of what the child may require is an IEP team decision and takes place at the initial IEP meeting, Smith said, however, the complete continuum of services is available under the department page of Special Education on the QACPS website.
QACPS plans to continue to provide quality inclusive services, Smith reported, while working collaboratively with administrators and the Department of Human Resources to ensure that vacancies are posted and filled in a timely manner. One of those positions is a teacher to provide a pre-employment instruction to the 18-21 population at Chesapeake College. Another of those available positions — a teacher position to serve as a 3-year-old general education and special education blended preschool program. This program serves students identified as requiring a school-based educational program, but with access to typically developing peers.
In Queen Anne’s schools last year, Smith documented nearly 88% of the special education students were in general education classes 80% or more of the time. Those students in separate facilities, i.e. home, hospital, private separate day programs, or private residential programs comprised only .80% of the population.
Smith said the school system is collectively working to continue to increase the system capacity to provide related services in accordance with student needs and IEPs. Under this plan, the program will work with curriculum and instruction content supervisors to increase academic proficiency and access for students with disabilities, Smith said.
Using grant funds, Smith said she hopes to empower existing IEP chairs to serve as peer coaches for special eduction teachers, ultimately impacting the service delivery and quality of specially designed instruction.
School officials encourage parents to obtain information and answers to questions about special education services in several ways, including from their IEP team, the school counselor and the principal at their school, and by contacting the Special Education Department at the Central Office.
The school system provides information on Special Education and staff contacts under the “Departments” drop-down menu on the QACPS website. Link to the Special Education page can be found here: https://www.qacps.org/domain/34. On the left margin, visitors can find a link to a description of all Special Education services (https://www.qacps.org/Page/5370) and other resources.