Special ed, bilingual units draw state criticism
A team of 10 evaluators examined Chicopee's bilingual and special education
programs last April.
By JEANETTE DeFORGE
Union News Staff writer 10/09/2002
CHICOPEE - State examiners are calling for a complete overhaul of the city
schools' special education and bilingual departments after uncovering poor
record-keeping, faulty teaching plans and other violations.
In a 120-page report, evaluators catalogued dozens of problems. State deadlines
were consistently missed, education plans for disabled students were ignored,
bilingual students were placed in English classes without proper support and
important reports were not translated for parents who do not speak English.
It said that students were sometimes improperly placed in classrooms that did
not fit their needs. Others did not have adequate support to learn English or
"The (state) ... will be very wary of approving any corrective action plan that
lacks a restructuring of special education," the report said.
Every six years, the state Department of Education evaluates school programs.
Last April, it sent a team of 10 to interview staffers, parents and
administrators and read a sample of student records for the bilingual,
special-education and Title 1 programs.
The Title 1 program, which provides extra help to poor children, met almost all
state guidelines and was commended twice. But rarely were state laws followed
completely in the special-education or bilingual programs.
Many of the violations were caused by the city's organization of the
special-education department, which has principals of each neighborhood school
overseeing services for students in their buildings, said Daniel Y. Schrier, the
evaluation team chairman and state education specialist.
"It is a very difficult model to use because it is so complex," he said
The city's special-education director was unable to supervise the district's
programs and was regularly excluded from policy and management decisions. The
organization has left schools with lesson plans, books and programs that vary
dramatically, the report said.
"The lack of cohesion among schools creates a system where resources are fought
over rather than shared," said the state report.
Lisa A. Godding, chairwoman of the newly-created Parent Advisory Council for
Disabled Children, said that many parents complained at its September meeting
"We found out one school would have something and another school wouldn't," she
Basan N. Nembirkow, who took over as superintendent last July, said he is
working with Ellyn Schneider, director of special education, and other staffers
to correct the problems.
Schneider said that she and others will meet with a state liaison person to
develop an action plan. Once the plan is approved by the state, evaluators will
examine progress as often as every three months.
Anticipating the poor report, the special-education department started drafting
a reorganization plan last summer that will take some responsibilities from
principals and return it to special-education administrators.
"Obviously, my concern is compliance and providing for the needs of the
students," said Schneider. "I would like parents to know we are doing the best
we can to meet the needs of the kids. I think they are getting very good
Schneider said that one of her priorities is to ensure that schools meet
The state criticized the city for missing deadlines for testing students
suspected of having disabilities and regularly evaluating others' progress.
Godding said it took her months to convince the schools to test her son, who was
found to have dyslexia.
"They finally did it in January, and we did not have a meeting with them until
June," she said.
The report condemned both programs for failing to keep proper records. Examiners
said that some areas were impossible to evaluate because information was
incomplete or missing.
"In general," it said, "the (bilingual) student records reviewed ... were
disorganized, difficult to decode and incomplete with regard to testing
information, information about previous schooling, previous report cards,
completed forms and documentation of translated notices for parents."
Jeanette DeForge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org