Newtown has among the lowest special education prevalence rates in its district reference group, with 7.9-percent identified as students with disabilities, according to Michael Regan, director of pupil services.
“Some people can look at it as a negative,” he said. “I look at it as a positive.”
Regan, who gave an update on special education to the Board of Education on March 15, said special education has been undergoing a shift in recent years with more of an emphasis on making sure everyone, particularly special education students, has access to the general curriculum as well as other services.
“Special ed is not a place, it’s a continuum of services,” he said. “There is a basic axiom of special education: It is access to the general curriculum…We cannot exclude kids with disabilities to direct access to that curriculum.”
Regan said that through early intervention and other efforts, educators are hoping to keep its special education prevalence rate low if only to avoid labels.
“A lot of kids in the past had been inappropriately identified,” he said. “You are being labeled with a disability and that can be stressful in and of itself.”
The district also will be moving what is called “transition” planning to the fifth grade for some students. The district will start “transition activities” for some students as early as fifth grade, asking that they create and manage their portfolio using a computer software program called Naviance.
“Those activities will follow them through (high school) graduation,” Regan said.
By starting transition planning early, students as well as others will have a better understanding of what will be needed for them to reach their goals of graduating and beyond, he said.
“Every single activity we do with this child has to have meaning and it’s not just keeping them busy,” Regan said. “It gets kids more involved in the educational process…self-advocacy is a big piece for a lot of these kids and we need to build that.”
More emphasis also is being placed on teachers and whether they are doing enough to help students, Regan said.
“All of our practices are much more focused on us now,” he said. “We are trying to take the fault away from the child.”
The school system also has been keeping track of more special education data tha ever.
Officials have decided to move a position out of the district’s technology department into more of a data gathering and analysis job in order to help with the need, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said.
The data person would now report to Regan as well as Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Gejda.