The following article was originally posted on We the People of Detroit co-founder Aurora Harris’ Detroit Parents with Special Needs blog.
As a concerned parent of a loved on with Autism; a Special Education Advocate for parents in Detroit, Michigan; and a co-founder of We The People of Detroit, I have been concerned with the quality of education special needs students have been receiving. Since Detroit Public Schools were placed under Emergency Managers, beginning with Robert Bobb, I have continued independently researching and writing about special education (or the lack of) in the DPS, EAA (Education Achievement Authority, a State system for low performing schools) and Charter Schools.
There are several questions I am attempting to answer: What will happen to Detroit’s students with special needs in general ed, EAA, and charter schools that are closing? What schools will they be transferred to when their school closes? Will they receive the FAPE ( Free and Appropriate Public Education) they need as mandated by IEP’s, IDEA, and Section 504 or will they continue to suffer from cutbacks in resources, accommodations, and lack of qualified teachers? How many parents will experience discrimination when attempting to enroll a child with special needs in charters? Which schools are students with special needs experiencing overcrowding in? What exactly is funding to educate students with special needs in general ed, charter, and center based schools being spent on? When a child transfers or drops out, does the Emergency Manager and administration ensure the funds follow the student, and in the case of drop out, do they misappropriate the funding (spend it on other things) instead of returning it to the Feds or State? Where does the special education funding go when a school is permanently closed down? Finally, how many special needs students are and will be affected by school closures, water shut off and foreclosure in the city of Detroit? Some of my questions come from the inability to find detailed spending reports concerning special education in Detroit while under Emergency Managers from Robert Bobb to Judge Rhodes, and the refusal of majority legislators in Lansing refusing requests by Detroit legislators to have a forensic audit done for DPS while it was under emergency managers. The final question is related to a recent water shut off mapping study called Mapping the Water Crisis: The Dismantling of African American Neighborhoods in Detroit” by the We The People of Detroit Community Research Collective. We The People of Detroit is a local non-profit, that I am a co-founder of.
Last week, I received an eight page report on proposed school closings in the Detroit Public Schools District beginning in September 2016 (in two weeks). As some of you may have learned from my last blog entry, the Detroit Public Schools website changed and much of the information pertaining to the “old” district cannot be found. As usual, I have been continuing my research on the number of Special Education students in the Detroit School District (DPS and the new Community Schools District) that may be affected by school closures, the type of education and resources they will receive, and funding sources for Special Education in Detroit. As an advocate, parents asked me if they can enroll their child with special needs in a charter school or they have told me that charter schools in Detroit have told them they “are full” when the parent attempts to enroll their child. In response to those parents, I have told them that in the State of Michigan, according to federal law, all schools, including charters, must provide Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and charters cannot deny enrollment because the student has a disability. When parents told me that a charter school told them they are “full,” meaning they are at full enrollment capacity and cannot accept the student with a disability, it reminds me of the discrimination by charter schools that took place in New Orleans, where complaints were filed and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parents when they found the charters were discriminating against the students. See an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center here.
In connecting the dots between New Orleans and Detroit, news sources in the past compared the closing of schools in Detroit to New Orleans, where New Orleans’ schools were destroyed and closed down by Hurricane Katrina (a natural disaster). The truth is the City of Detroit and Detroit Public Schools has not experienced a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina. Detroit Public Schools were and still are being destroyed and closed down by Emergency Managers continually creating economic disaster by increasing the school district’s debt, and upholding polices and mandates that allowed for more charters schools to open. An article by the Metro Times covered the increase in debt after six years of Emergency Managers.
Today I discovered two reports by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. The first report supports what I have told parents. The first report dated March 30, 2012 is “Special Education Enrollment: Traditional Public Schools vs Charter Schools” discusses the mistaken belief that charter schools can have a selective enrollment process and explains why they “cannot categorically deny enrollment.” The second report, “Public School Enrollment Trends in Detroit Memo 1141, June 2016” provides details on the trends in enrollment from 2009 through 2016, and, enrollment of Special Education students. This report shows an <b>increase</b> in the number of students enrolled in the schools, from 13% to 18%, from the early 2000’s to present. It also states that students with special needs are moving slower out of the district when compared with general education students. “Table 4” shows there were almost 4500 students receiving special education from 2011-13. The report also shows differences between Detroit’s Special Education enrollment and other districts: “Another difference in DPS’s special education population is that roughly one-half of the disabled students (2,269 FTE of 4,499 FTE) attend one of the six centerbased programs operated by the district. For all other districts and charter schools in Wayne RESA, 44 percent of the disabled student body attend center-based programs located across the ISD.Another part of the report states: “Special education students account for 12.7 percent of Michigan’s (excluding DPS) total public school enrollment in 2015-16, compared to 18.2 percent for DPS. Relative to total enrollment, DPS’s special education population is almost one-third larger than the statewide average.13 While DPS’s special education share has been trending up over the 10-plus years, the opposite has been occurring statewide.” The full reports may be downloaded in PDF from the Citizens of Michigan Research Council website at the links indicated above.
Regarding special education students, school closure, water shut off and foreclosure, the questions previously stated remain, and, based on the reports I read today, if Detroit Public Schools’ total enrollment of special education students is increasing, and half of those students are in 6 centerbased schools (see DPS website map):
1. Banks, Diann Williamson Center 5020 Cadieux Detroit, MI 48224 (313) 347-7280
2. Drew Transition Center 9600 Wyoming Street Detroit, MI 48204-4669 (313) 873-6880
3. Field, Moses 1100 Sheridan Detroit, MI 48214-4220 (313) 866-5790
4. Keidan Special Education Center 4441 Collingwood Detroit, MI 48204 (313) 873-9400
5. Turning Point Academy 12300 Linnhurst St. Detroit, MI 48205-2627 (313) 866-2200
6. White, Jerry L. Center 14804 W. McNichols Detroit, MI 48235 (313) 416-4200
are special education students residing and/or attending schools in areas heaviest hit with water shut off or foreclosure? I believe we can find an approximate number of special needs students affected by looking at the location of school closures, existing schools, and the maps provided by the We The People of Detroit Community Research Collective. A sample of the maps are found here.
The Fox 2 Detroit News Report on the press conference concerning the community report “Mapping the Water Crisis” can be found here.
A second publication by We The People of Detroit on education is forthcoming. Whether you are a parent, student, activist, or researcher, I hope you have found this information helpful.