Dear Reading Public School Staff and the Greater Reading Community,
I feel it is important that I make our staff and community aware of a recent finding that involved the Reading Public Schools by the United States Department of Education. This finding was presented and discussed at the September 25, 2017 School Committee meeting, by Director of Student Services Carolyn Wilson. The presentation by Mrs. Wilson included the findings and resolution for Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Complaints that were initiated in June, 2016 at the Joshua Eaton Elementary School for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. Those reports, and Mrs. Wilson’s presentation, can be found in the September 25th School Committee packet, located here and the RCTV recording of the meeting can be found here.
The complaints focused on two areas where it was determined that practices were essentially resulting in discrimination based on disability. The first area of concern was that the classroom space used by the students in the special education program was not comparable to the classroom space used by students without disabilities. The second area of concern was that the district failed to implement each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) with respect to certain provisions related to multi-sensory instruction. After carefully considering all of the information during the investigation, OCR found sufficient evidence of a violation for the first area of concern and certain aspects of the second area of concern. As a result of these findings, the Reading Public Schools entered a resolution agreement with those students affected. On behalf of the Reading Public Schools, I signed that resolution agreement, effective August 31, 2017.
The results of the findings further affirms the work that we have begun in our district is necessary and important. Two years ago, prior to receiving this Office of Civil Rights Complaint, our District began focusing our District Improvement Plan on closing the achievement gap for all students, including students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and English Language Learners. Teachers and administrators have been focusing their time and resources on this very important area which affects every student in our school district. You may have noticed that we have purchased curriculum materials over the last few years in several grades to support changes in science, mathematics, and literacy. Our core mission as a school district is to ensure that all students have access to quality curriculum, that they are held to a high level of expectation, and that they are provided the support and/or interventions they need to make continuous growth. Although we have made some progress in this area, we know we have further to go.
We have learned many lessons from this OCR finding and look at this process as an opportunity to improve the special education program at Joshua Eaton as well as throughout the school district. This complaint reminds us of the need to continually evaluate all special education spaces in the district to ensure that students have comparable educational space that is appropriate to allow them to progress toward meeting their individual goals. In addition, it is important that parents, teachers, administrators and the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) work collaboratively together to develop short term and long range plans to address the needs of our students. Each group has a unique perspective, which collectively, will lead to effective evidenced based programs and services that benefit students. I am committed as Superintendent of Schools to work with the School Committee to secure the necessary resources with the community to support the changes necessary to have special education programs and services where our students have the appropriate tools and skills for a successful educational experience and are prepared for the next grade, and ultimately, prepared to contribute to our community.
We will give regular updates to the School Committee and the Community on our progress. In the meantime, we encourage staff and the greater school community to give us feedback and comments on what is working and what needs to be improved. I encourage you to attend SEPAC meetings, Superintendent Office Hours (which are posted on our website, www.reading.k12.ma.us, each week), or by contacting Director of Student Services Carolyn Wilson at Carolyn.Wilson@reading.k12.ma.us.