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Changes Coming For DCPS Exceptional Student Education

Cyd Hoskinson

A bill making its way through the Florida legislaturewould require school districts to include parents in the creation of individual education plans (IEP) for their special needs children. 

The legislation would not only make school districts more responsive to parents, it would also give parents greater access to programs they think would do a better job of meeting their children's needs.

Credit Cyd Hoskinson / WJCT
Duval School Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti

Duval County School Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti acknowledges the need for a law like this one.

Vitti says he's heard from plenty of frustrated parents who have jumped through all of the bureaucratic hoops only to watch their special needs children continue to struggle in school.

But, he says, it's possible some of the students who currently haveIEP's may not have needed them in the first place.  Not if the school district had done a better job teaching them reading and math skills in the earliest grades.

"Because a lot of our students that are eventually being diagnosed as needing an IEP are just not receiving the proper instruction and, more importantly, the interventions to be at grade level.  And that, unfortunately, leads to a disability and sometimes that's misdiagnosed."

Vitti says in order to do a better job educating special-needs students  the district needs to start thinking beyond simple compliance with the laws that govern their schooling.

"If we just focus on the requirements of the law, we forget about the individual child and what the individual child needs and what teachers need in order to support the children."

Vitti says he’s in the process of restructuring the ESE, or Exceptional Student Education Department to reduce the bureaucracy and make it more child-centered and parent friendly.

"I think that's where ESE right now is stuck in Duval is that we look at ESE issues as a problem rather than a challenge and an opportunity."

Vitti says he wants to put together a team of educators at the district level who are "problem solvers" and "agents of change" to help create a better system of support, not just for students, but for their parents and their teachers as well.

To do that, Vitti says, he's requiring the one-hundred or so social workers, psychologists and administrators to reapply for their jobs at the end of this school year.

Cyd Hoskinson began working at WJCT on Valentine’s Day 2011.