The Lake Oswego Review ran a story buried on page 16 on June 26, 2008 touting the district's special education model, 'District Will Try To Fill Void With New Special Ed Model'. I was quoted in a grey box off to the side as the parent with a 'handful of concerns about the shift in special education services from Clackamas Educational Service District to Lake Oswego.'

My concerns go way beyond my own child's placement. My child was placed before the shift, and I am taking the necessary steps to rectify the violations of the law made by the school district in the process of placing him there.

My current concern is about all of the students who are already placed there, or who may be placed in these programs in the future.

Special Education programs need to be in conformance with state and federal laws governing these issues, namely the IDEA law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). 'To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities … are educated with children who are not disabled. Special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.' OAR 581-015-2240

The new model was introduced at a work session on April 14, 2008 and approved approximately one hour later at the board meeting.

This model was presented to the board and the public as a better model for educating students with autism. It may do just that. However, there are other aspects to this model that have been overlooked with potentially serious consequences.

The first thing that struck me as alarming is a review of how the program was presented and the budget for the program. The programs described are all self-contained classes with the exception of the autism support, which is currently only available at Lake Oswego Junior High and Lake Oswego High School. This model will now serve 103 students while the old model served 64 students, a difference of 39 students. My question about this that has yet to be answered is: Are they planning to increase the number of children in self- contained classrooms by 61 percent?

If so, that would be a drastic increase given the presumption in the law in favor of regular education for children with disabilities.

If not, what other aspects of the program are there, that have not been shared with the board and the public.

You cannot increase the number of children you are serving by 61 percent for the same money without hidden costs to the service level to students. This model lacks any emphasis on supplementary aides and services which constitutes the cornerstone of special education.

The biggest flaw is that no placement criteria had been drafted prior to the board approving this model. This leaves policy making to the administration and this is a board function.

Criteria based on best practices with clearly defined desired outcomes are essential for appropriate placement, especially if you are placing a student in self- contained classroom segregated from non-disabled peers. The purpose of these programs should not be to warehouse children with special needs.

Only with clear established placement criteria that reflect the standards of the IDEA law can this model be considered ready for implementation. Until then the board should put a hold on new placements, and ask the special services department to review all placements after criteria are in place to ensure that no improper placement has occurred for any child. I know firsthand how serious the consequences of an inappropriate placement can be.

School Superintenden Dr. (Bill) Korach's response to my concerns that: 'The vast majority of people think we are savy (sic) enough to build that criteria in the summer for the fall,' does not adequately allow for parental involvement in the process. The Special Services Advisory Committee never held an official vote on this model, nor have they reviewed any criteria. They have no meeting scheduled prior to the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year.

Lake Oswego School District wants to be known for the high standards it sets for our children. Shouldn't we also apply those same standards to our special education services?

Cynthia Mohiuddin resides in Lake Oswego and is the mother of two children. She is a family law attorney and mediator in Tigard at Westside Family Law. She serves as the chair of the Clackamas County Commission on Children and Families, and also as an arbitrator and hearings officer.

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