Final meeting of special education task force will be open to public

·2 min read

Jun. 24—The final meeting of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, which is examining special education in Frederick County, will be open for public observation, the district announced Thursday.

The review group after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into how the school district disciplines students with disabilities.

Interim FCPS Superintendent Mike Markoe announced he was forming the task force in January, and it began meeting in May.

Its 22 members — half of whom work for FCPS — conducted their first five meetings behind closed doors, a decision that task force co-chair and FCPS Student Services Director Dana Falls said was to protect student privacy and encourage candid discussion.

But at its sixth and final meeting, Falls said, members won't discuss any personal experiences. Instead, they'll narrow and edit a list of draft recommendations, which they will present to the Frederick County Board of Education in August.

"There's no reason that the public couldn't observe that process," Falls said.

In December, the DOJ found FCPS was systematically misusing seclusion and physical restraint against students with disabilities in violation of its own policies, and state and federal law. Markoe charged the Blue Ribbon Task Force with examining FCPS' array of specialized programs and exploring "proactive best practices for behavioral intervention."

Members have been drafting recommendations that fall into three separate "buckets," Falls said: staffing, professional development and resources, and special education programming. Right now, there are dozens, but on Tuesday, members will work to narrow the list down to three to five recommendations in each area, or nine to 15 in total.

According to meeting minutes posted on FCPS' website, members have suggested some specific changes, including adding a behavior support specialist to every elementary school and offering basic de-escalation training for all school staff members with regular check-ins and practice sessions.

Other recommendations include:

— Continue to increase pay for special education instructional assistants

— Explore an autism support program to "bridge the gap between the Expressions and Pyramid programs"

— Create an "advocacy center" to provide support and information to special education parents

— Review the Individual Education Plan process across the district

Many recommendations currently begin with words like "explore," "review," or "consider." It would be difficult to track progress on that type of goal, Falls said.

"We're really trying to steer the group into measurable recommendations," Falls said. "They're not all written in a format that I'd personally be comfortable taking to the board. ... We will figure out how to state them in a way to produce action."

The meeting will take place from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday in the FCPS Central Office Board Room at 191 S. East St. There will not be time allotted for public comment.

Community members can view the task force's past meeting agendas, materials and minutes at fcps.org/about/brtf.

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