Park City School District should be lauded for taking action
The Park Record editorial, March 25-28, 2017
The Park City School District was boisterously — and rightly — criticized last spring when its failure to provide necessary accommodations for students with Type 1 diabetes became public.
Likewise, the district should be commended when it tries to do better.
Last summer, in response to those criticisms and an investigation from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that found the district had discriminated against a diabetic student, school officials began searching for someone new to run the special education program, which oversees the care of students with additional needs ranging from educational to medical.
Administrators ultimately hired an official with the Utah State Board of Education whose background makes clear they are serious about addressing the deficiencies that have plagued the special education program.
The first thing that should be said about Jennifer Slade is she knows what it’s like to navigate the public school system as the parent of a student with special needs. Before becoming an educator, she faced the challenge of advocating for one autistic child and another who has bipolar disorder. She says being a voice for parents now in similar situations is a top priority.
Professionally, Slade’s resume is equally impressive. During her career, she has taught both regular and special education and most recently spent five years as the anti-discrimination specialist for the State Board of Education. In that role, she helped support parents and children statewide who deal with the same issues often present in Park City.
Already, Slade has pledged to make several important changes to how the district’s special education program operates. Perhaps the most important is ensuring Park City is a place where strong lines of communication and fruitful relationships are formed between parents and school staff members. A comprehensive review of the program completed by the State Board of Education this spring identified that as one of the largest shortcomings — a conclusion unsurprising to anyone who has heard stories from frustrated parents over the years, or the teachers they’ve sometimes overwhelmed.
Other changes should also make a big difference. New software the district implemented will allow schools to better organize and manage the plans that outline the special accommodations students require. And additional training aims to educate staffers about the legal obligations schools must meet in educating students with special needs.
Nearly one school year into Slade’s tenure, the district’s special education program still isn’t perfect. In reality, it may never be. But after the program’s serious shortcomings came to light last spring, the district’s apparent commitment to do better is worthy of recognition.
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