Mars special ed program receives positive grades from state, parents

January 11, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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ADAMS TWP — A year after major flaws were found in the Mars School District's special education programming, representatives from the state and parents have noted that positive changes have taken place.

During a meeting of the Mars School Board Tuesday, Superintendent Wesley Shipley said a review by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Special Education recently found the district to be in 100 percent compliance on two separate fronts.

The first was a random and targeted sample of student files to determine their accuracy, with investigations showing they were. The second focused on evaluations and whether timelines were being met for individualized education program (IEP) meetings. Shipley said the district was found to be performing well.

“We're very happy to announce that,” he said.

In January 2018, the district was found by the Bureau of Special Education to be out of compliance with state rules in a number of areas, including “least restrictive environment,” which is based on a student's ability to be educated with nondisabled peers to the greatest extent possible.

Other areas of non-compliance included parent training, personnel training and a lack of documentation used for students to make the transition from high school to college or the work force.

A required plan of action was created and submitted to the state last summer, but not until after numerous school board meetings were packed with parents of special education students voicing their concerns and frustrations with the program.

On Tuesday, two of those parents spoke during the public comment period of the meeting, saying they have seen noticeable, positive changes take place in the past year.

“Thank you guys so much for moving very quickly on our grievances last spring and this summer,” said Dana Briggs, whose son is in the kindergarten special education program.

Briggs said the staff and support staff have been exceptional, and the hiring of Travis Mineard as director of special education as well as the support of Elizabeth McMahon, assistant superintendent, led to noticeable changes. She said meetings with parents, particularly a recent one on IEPs, have provided a wealth of information and support.

“I'm so happy my son is here,” she said.

Parent Julia Konitzky noted that she would soon mark the one-year anniversary of her first board meeting, which she attended as “a fired-up parent.”

“I can't even tell you how things have changed — and it's so, so positive,” she said, adding that the programs and teachers in place have helped her son thrive.

She added that reading support and specialists hired at the lower grade levels have made a world of difference.

Dayle Ferguson, school board president, said she and the board appreciated the kind words, and that credit for the changes lies with the teachers, support staff and administration who are helping to carry out the plan.

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