Bridging IEP and Equity in P.S. 307

Jocardo Ralston, P.S. 307’s Special Education Liaison/IEP Teacher, is racking up a radical vision. Informed by his expertise and experience in special education, Mr. Ralston proposes that every student should have an IEP. He believes that an IEP is a quintessential building block to students’ growth and it should be accessible to other students, especially those who are facing learning barriers but may not have an identifiable disability. The end goal is not only to treat students equally but also treat them equitably.

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IEP stands for the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). In compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it is a carefully developed plan to ensure that a student with a disability receives a meaningful education. To help teachers successfully create and sustain students’ IEPs, Mr. Ralston is drafting an IEP writing manual. The manual would assist teachers with the process of creating and building child’s special education inventory program.

Mr. Ralston’s vision is backed up by eleven years of working with young students and having worked with three different school administrations. He is currently completing his third year in P.S. 307. Simultaneously, he is also completing his MEd in Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. At P.S. 307, he creates IEPs for students who receive special education support, conducts workshops for staff to help support students with special education designation, identifies students who struggle in different academic areas and provide intervention. In addition, he also works with the Parent Coordinator to provide support for the parents of students with special needs.

One challenge of creating more IEPs is that it places even more responsibility on teachers. Their concern is validated by the fact that IEP is time-consuming. However, teachers and specialized workshops remain the most critical and excellent resources to nurture students’ academic growth. His extensive experience in special education led him to believe that “in-house” professional development may be more effective than outside development. Therefore, the potential burden on teachers can be alleviated through workshops and additional resources. One important yet untapped resource is the outside community. It is a collaborative process, involving students’ families and outside communities. According to him, students’ lives are not confined from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Community involvement is the crux of equity and IEP. Mr. Ralston wants to foster conversations about equity between the school and community. One important theme is examining explicit/implicit bias. Staff and educators should be honest with themselves and to have conversations with one another. He understands that conversations may be difficult and uncomfortable, especially when it involves different races. Yet, according to him, this must be done because “we owe students and their family who been historically been at the school from bad and good times.” Equity includes leading parents through a needlessly complicated special education process and ensuring they understand. Mr. Ralston wants to make sure that parents have an explicit understanding of their rights throughout the process.

Furthermore, equity also includes maintaining a safe space for all students, especially for those students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or gender non-conforming. Mr. Ralston said, “it is important that our students know they have a safe space, an ally to affirm their identities. As a gay man, this is very important to me. All students should feel safe, regardless of how their identify or express themselves.”

Mr. Ralston also want help teachers understand what he termed as “therapeutic crisis and trauma-influenced learning and trauma-responsive teaching.” He noticed that teachers sometimes mistake traumas for special education issues. For example, a five-year-old child who had a parent who passed away recently doesn’t need an IEP but a support system.

His ultimate goal is to push students towards inclusion and take them out of specialized classrooms. Yet, Special Education is a service not a placement; students can move as fast as they can but as slow as they need. He firmly believes that students should not be measured by the test scores but by holistic observation of learning growth which can be demonstrated by individualized student portfolios. Mr. Ralston is excited to share his IEP writing manual which will be available during this summer.

 
 
 

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