This is a picture of a young boy receiving physical therapy in an appropriate room in his school..
Now click on this link and look at the picture at the top of this Trentonian article (which I couldn’t reproduce on this blog). That’s a picture of a young boy (identifying characteristics are redacted because the paper didn’t have permission from the child’s parents) receiving physical therapy in an inappropriate venue.
Specifically, the crowded front foyer of Trenton’s Grant Elementary School.
According to Nicole Whitfield, a special education advocate who happened to be visiting the school,
“There was passing traffic from the outside and constant traffic from the other students in the hallway,” Whitfield said. “This was an invasion of the student’s privacy and a constant distraction.”
The advocate said the physical therapy activity also violated the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), a legal plan schools must abide by to meet the needs of a special education student. Whitfield said all of the IEPs state therapy sessions must be conducted in a “therapy room.” The physical therapist was also not a district employee.
It’s unclear whether or not the Grant Elementary indeed violated the child’s IEP. It’s possible that the therapist was incorporating multi-sensory stimulation into the activity (okay, I’m stretching here) and the therapist wasn’t a “district employee” because Trenton, in an effort to cut costs, has out-sourced speech, occupational, and physical therapists.
Yet the sighting of inappropriate delivery of services is consistent with Trenton Public Schools’ history of short-changing kids with disabilities. As I’ve noted elsewhere, Trenton parents of special needs children have smartly responded to the district’s special education disarray by demanding out-of-district placements. According to last year’s DOE data, the district sends two-thirds of their special education students — or 900 students — to private schools or the County Special Services district. That’s a violation of federal education law’s mandate of educating children in the “least restrictive environment,” but until Trenton ups their game parents will continue to demand — as any parent would — effective services.
Some would say that this is the least of Trenton’s problems. The School Board hired a new superintendent earlier this month (Fred McDowell, an administrator from Philadelphia) but the search was marred by violations of the Open Public Meeting Act and a civil rights complaint from the NAACP. Budget deficits forced the School Board to lay off ten percent of staff members. At Trenton Central High, no student (or so few that the DOE chose to omit the information) reached college/career readiness benchmarks on the SAT or ACT.
And yet how we treat our most vulnerable students is a kind of emblem for district functionality, right? Under this metric, Trenton Public Schools is failing not only the child in the Trentonian picture but 13,000 others.