At a stop on his “listening tour” (a part of his 60 Day Entry Plan) yesterday at 10:00am, I was able to ask Dr. Wardynski one direct question. I asked, “Dr. Wardynski, is the school system going to be in a place to meet the requirements of IEPs on August 8th?”
To this question Dr. Wardynski responded, “I don’t know.”
After a pregnant and awkward pause, he added, “That’s why I’m listening to you.”
Rather than coming prepared to discuss the Special Needs Consolidation plan, rather than coming prepared to discuss the Special Needs staffing issues, rather than coming with even basic remarks prepared as he did for the South Huntsville Civic Association’s “Town Hall” meeting, Dr. Wardynski came to a meeting with special needs parents to hear from them if his system will be prepared to teach their kids in 8 days.
So now it’s the parents’ responsibility to let the superintendent know if the people he is paid $175,000 a year to supervise are doing their jobs. It’s the parents’ job to know if the school system has the proper staffing to ensure the safety of their kids.
As I have asked often before, what exactly are we paying these people for?
Meeting the requirements of the Individualized Education Program, from the first day of school, is the law. There are no exceptions. There are no maybes. There are no “I hope so’s.” Imagine showing up for school on the first day knowing that your child’s teacher does not have the resources she needs to educate your child? Would you allow your child to stay in that classroom?
If the system is not prepared to meet the IEPs, the system is not prepared for school.
If the system is understaffed and cannot meet the IEPs, the system and our schools are not safe for our kids.
I was hopeful that this meeting would be different. Maybe it would be similar to the South Huntsville Civic Association “Town Hall” meeting on July 11th where Dr. Wardynski came prepared to offer an assessment of the school closings. Maybe we would finally get some answers. In fact, I was specifically told that Dr. Wardynski would finally discuss the Special Needs Consolidation during this meeting. You know, “the plan.”
It would seem that parents of special needs children don’t have the same political clout as the South Huntsville Civic Association.
After introductions, Dr. Wardynski, his aide Aaron King, and Edith Pickins, sat, took notes, cracked a few jokes, and listened.
And that was all.
His only response to a direct question was, “I don’t know.”
While I appreciate that Dr. Robinson went to the trouble of getting me invited to this meeting, and I do certainly support the concept of listening on the part of Dr. Wardynski, the time for listening has long since passed. We have specific questions concerning staffing decisions. We have specific questions concerning the safety of our children. We have specific questions concerning “the plan” that need to be answered.
We’ve been attempting to get answers to these questions since March, and Dr. Wardynski knows this. I’ve emailed these concerns to him and the board on July 16th and received no response. I shared my concerns with the board and Dr. Wardynski in person on July 21st and received no response.
In an attempt to keep this from happening, again, on Sunday, I sent Dr. Wardynski a list of questions that I was looking forward to discussing with him.
Thank you for your willingness to meet with me and other parents tomorrow morning at 10:00am. I appreciate it, and I am looking forward to it.As I have not received an agenda of any kind, I thought that I would share with you a few items that I would like to discuss tomorrow. This is only my list. It has not been discussed with the S.P.E.A.K. group as a whole nor am I speaking for them by sharing this with you. They will bring their own concerns.
- I am concerned that the special needs classrooms for the 2011-2012 year are going to be dangerously understaffed. As such, I would like to know what the teacher to student ratio for the resource rooms is going to be. I would also like to know exactly how many instructional assistants (IAs) are assigned to the resource rooms for the coming year. As the number of students assigned to the resource rooms is, I have heard, dramatically increasing from last year, the number of IAs should also be increased from last year. Is this the case? Finally, I would like to know how many IAs are going to be available at each school to assist students in participating in regular education classrooms. The “Least Restrictive Environment” requirements of part B of IDEA states that the system must “to the maximum extent appropriate children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when 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.” In order to facilitate LRE, the system must hire a sufficient number of IAs to support the children from the first day of school. Have you done so?
- I would like you to respond to the troubling ratio of Special Needs layoffs that I shared with you via Email last Saturday (July 16th) and in person on Thursday Night (July 21st) at the Board Meeting. Why have Special Needs staff been cut at such an unfair ratio and what are you doing to address these cuts? Alabama State Code 16-39-3 states that, “If sufficient funds are not available to a school board to provide fully for all the provisions of this chapter as well as the educational needs of nonexceptional children, such board must prorate all funds on a per capita basis between exceptional and nonexceptional children.” So far the cuts made have not been made on a per capita basis.
- I would like to finally receive a written copy of the special needs consolidation plan with a clear justification for why these changes have been made. I was first told that I could expect this written plan “soon” on April 6, 2011. I’ve been promised a written plan by Ms. Sledge, Dr. Pruitt, Dr. Robinson, Dr. Richardson, and indirectly by Dr. Moore. To date, this plan still has not been provided to me or any other special needs parent that I am aware of. Frankly, Dr. Wardynski, this is an excellent example of why Huntsville City Schools is the most sued school system in the state. You may review a listing of these suits here.
- To avoid issues like the consolidation of special needs students in the future and to reduce the number of lawsuits the system must endure, I would like to hear your thoughts on how you plan to involve the stakeholders of your decisions in your decision making process.
- I would like to hear how you intend to improve the transparency of the operation of your office, the board and the system as a whole. If you want people to trust you, you can earn that trust by showing us what you’re doing and why.Thank you for your time and for taking the time to meet with me and other parents tomorrow. Doing so is the first step towards earning my trust. I appreciate your willingness to go this far.Sincerely,Russell
He, again, summarily ignored these questions. (He’s learned how to not answer a question from the best of them, I suppose.)
In fact the only issue he did address was to offer his assurances that he would operate in a transparent manner. Unfortunately, he wasn’t transparent enough to offer us any details about how he was planning to improve transparency. I suppose we should just trust him that he’s been trained to use the right buzz-words.
When I was invited to this meeting, I was specifically told, “Dr. Wardynski has met with our special ed staff and assessed the plan.” (Please note the use of past tense in that sentence, and yes, this sentence refers to “the plan.”) He has met with the staff and assessed the plan. When he met with us yesterday, his constant refrain was, “I’ve only been here three weeks; I haven’t assessed anything yet.”
Instead, Dr. Wardynski sat quietly, taking notes, offering no comment on his assessment of the plan. And the one time he was asked a direct question in the meeting, his response was, “I don’t know.”
Yesterday we were nine days from the start of school, and the superintendent doesn’t know if his schools are ready to teach our students.
We were nine days from the start of school, and the superintendent cannot or will not answer basic questions about the staffing of special needs classrooms.
We were nine days from the start of school, and the superintendent cannot or will not address basic questions about the security and safety of students.
Today we’re eight days from the start of school, and still we’re asked to wait.