Policy changes are coming from NC DPI (Department of Public Instruction) in regards to Autism identification and qualification for services. If approved by the NC State Board of Education they could be put in place as soon as August.
If this is the first you’re hearing about it, you are not alone. Many parents and educators were not made aware until now. I happened on the announcement in a social media group by accident. If you’re looking for a major press release or announcement from your school district, it may not be there. Below are what I found circulating on a few social media sites.
On June 25th, I attended the parent forum in Raeford. In the meeting, the Exceptional Children’s Division explained the goal of the new policy changes is to clear up policy when identifying students with Autism. Ok, good so far. I agree we need better training and understanding of Autism in our public schools overall. There are some new sensory screenings which again sounds very positive. The ECD also laid out what the new policy for qualifying for special education services will look like.
Here is where my mommy senses began to tingle. So, the old qualifications for services for Autism were extremely vague. The new ones are more comprehensive and do provide a clearer guideline. However, is it a good guideline? Will it result in fewer students qualifying for services and thus not be provided an appropriate education? These are the important questions to keep asking.
I encourage every stakeholder to take a deep look at the proposed policy found here:
When I read the policy, a few red flags went off in my head when I read the policy and of course I checked in with a few school psychologist friends. The first red flag was the communication piece. Under the new requirements for a child to be classified with Autism they must meet three criteria for communication. The other red flag might be that the symptoms must be present in early development, but could have been masked with coping skills. I have significant fears that the new criteria will have less students qualifying for services. As a side note, no need to panic just yet if your child already qualifies. This shouldn’t impact students already receiving services unless a full reassessment is requested. Reassessments are common, but full reassessments are rare.
I mentioned my fears at the parent meeting, but was assured that they were unfounded. I remain skeptical. I don’t mind change and updating Autism policies can be beneficial, if the goal is make sure we aren’t denying services to those who are in need. I’m not sure that is the goal.
I hope every parent or educator who wants to learn more about these policies do so from DPI and get a chance to ask them difficult questions face to face. However, that will not be the case. These meetings are being held at only eight locations around the state. Very few are in urban centers. The most significant problem is that these meetings are held at 5:30PM. Getting to a meeting across Wake County at 5:30 is a challenge, let alone trying to get to Butner.
I brought this issue up at the meeting I attended in Raeford. I was told that they wanted to include the rural folks. That is fantastic. However, it shouldn’t be an either or proposition. Have a meeting in Butner and Raeford, but have one in Wake and Charlotte too. By only having meetings in these eight locations DPI is excluding large numbers of stakeholders, and absolutely they must have them later in the day so working families can attend.
In North Carolina, parents have a right to be skeptical. By not qualifying students for special education services, the state and district save money. There is already an arbitrary cap on the amount of students that the state funds. Each district is capped for special education services at 12.75% of its population. Districts who go over the cap must fund those students from local funds. One way to keep costs lower is to keep kids from qualifying from services. I sincerely hope this is never a strategy.
The policy for Autism, will go before the State Board of Education in August and roll out as soon as possible. For all I know, these will be positive changes for the Autism community in North Carolina. However, the public needs to be made aware of the changes, give input, and monitor the implementation. This isn’t approved policy yet and I encourage everyone who has serious concerns to contact the NC State Board of Education ahead of the August meeting. The link to State Board Member emails is down at this time. Here is the Home Page for the NC State Board of Ed.