Special Education director responds to violations

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I am writing in response to a recent article published in the Bangor Daily News on June 10 (and in the June 16 edition of the Houlton Pioneer Times) stating that the Hodgdon School District (SAD 70) violated state regulations by improperly changing student special education programs.

I am writing in response to a recent article published in the Bangor Daily News on June 10 (and in the June 16 edition of the Houlton Pioneer Times) stating that the Hodgdon School District (SAD 70) violated state regulations by improperly changing student special education programs.

I am the special education director for those programs and  believe some clarification is warranted.

This news article, and the state complaint ruling, addressed efforts we have made in the school  district to ensure that all our special education students are placed in the least restrictive educational  setting in which they can benefit, providing as much of a mainstream education as can work for the  child. This effort reflects our own commitment to combat not just a long history around Maine and the  nation of excluding students with disabilities from mainstream classrooms, but also our belief that many students with disabilities in this school district could benefit from more mainstreaming, combined with better targeted special education programming. 

Lost in the news story was that the state complaint investigator agreed with us that these  efforts are important and should have occurred. The Investigator wrote, “Director Flacke was correct  to identify and attempt to correct this problem for these students.” He also wrote that “the District’s  goal to maximize each student’s LRE [least restrictive environment] was appropriate.”  

For virtually all the students involved, our staff contacted each of the families at the start of the  school year to see if they agreed with our efforts to provide more mainstreaming for their children.  The investigator recognized that this was a perfectly permissible way to attempt to address this issue.  Yet he also concluded that for some of these families, the discussions were not sufficiently in depth,  and it was not always perfectly clear from the documentation that each family had fully supported the  increased mainstreaming.  

The Investigator said very little in his ruling about how the pandemic at the start of the school  year was stretching every staff member to the limit, or about how the District was doing its very best  to meet all special education procedural requirements while also supporting staff who were being  asked to do more than educators may have ever had to do in the face of a world-wide crisis. 

In short, the Investigator ruled that although the District’s mainstreaming goal was a good one,  he ruled that we did not fully meet all the procedural requirements for each of the involved students.  This led to his order that we revisit some of these decisions with the involved families, make sure that they fully understand and agree with the amount of mainstreaming, and if there is some disagreement, decide how best to resolve it.

The District and I are happy with this outcome. We appreciate the support of the DOE for our  mainstreaming efforts. And most importantly, we certainly want to be sure that all of the involved  families feel fully heard and part of the decision. We are moving ahead with the required meetings,  and we fully believe that there will be broad agreement on how best to address the needs of each of  the involved students, with as much mainstreaming for each child as will work for them. 

Each parent of students with special needs should understand that the school district’s only  goal for these children is to provide them the best education possible, while at the same time allowing  them to be in the mainstream classroom with their friends and neighbors as much as possible. This  balance can work, and we are committed to working with parents every day to making sure that this happens. 

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