School Board candidates discuss special education


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With a mere two weeks left before the next round of Iowa City School Board elections, the nine candidates met Monday with the public to discuss issues revolving around special education in Iowa’s fifth-largest district.

During an evening forum at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., roughly 145 people gathered to listen to candidates answer questions on the topic of special education services offered within the district.

The nonprofit citizen’s group Friends of Community Inclusion hosted the event.

Madeline Shea, a coordinator for the Friends of Community Inclusion group, said the main goal of the forum was to help members of the community learn about the differing views of the candidates, as well as let them become familiar with issues revolving around special education.

During the 2012-13 academic year, 1,308 students, or roughly 10.5 percent of the district’s nearly 12,500 students, received some form of special education.

In all, the district employs 379 para-educators, individuals who assist in the educational and cognitive development of those living with special education needs.

“We want to hear about their views, and we want to hear ways we can bring together the school district and agencies to get students work experience for them to start trying out careers,” Shea said.

The variety of questions asked included what each candidate thought the School Board’s role was in ensuring that Iowa City provides a quality education program for each individual student.

Candidate Greg Geerdes said it is important to remember the board is not just a policymaker and it is responsible for everything in the School District.

“The board needs to be move aggressive and assertive in making sure individual education programs — which are keystone to special needs studies — are properly prepared and carried out,” he said.

Candidate Jim Tate said it ultimately comes down to the administration being up to the task.

“We need to make sure teachers have proper training to recognize early signs. They’re the first line of defense,” he said.

Candidate Jason Lewis said there is a lack of communication in classrooms that needs to change.

“We should want to find out from the ground level how it works,” he said. “We should ask teachers what makes their job easy and difficult. It’s impossible for the classroom to teach without help. We need a policy that directs that kind of communication in the classroom.”

Candidates were also asked for their thoughts on involving community resources to support students in the traditional learning process, as well as when they transition to post-high school opportunities.

Candidate Sara Barron said there should be a focus on individual needs when thinking about community resources.

“For every special-education student, we have slightly different needs and support we want to provide,” she said. “Some students want opportunity to develop work place skills in high school while others will still need academic instruction.”

Current board member Tuyet Dorau said she has lived in the community for 30 years and knows the community values education. She said the board should reach out to various areas within the community.

“We need to make sure we’re partnering with parents, faculty, businesses, and neighborhood centers, but there’s also a wealth of knowledge to get into various perspectives the community has and better understand those perspectives when one has individual needs,” she said.

School Board Vice President Karla Cook and said contacting different businesses and educational services would make the most sense.

“Business communities could be more involved. We could issue a survey to ask if they’d be willing to offer jobs and training. Kirkwood regional center would be good to contact,” she said.

Candidate Brian Kirschling said individual education is not an idea — it is a law. He said the district should change transparency with parents and the community.

“Everybody can learn from everybody,” he said. “We must establish a hierarchy of priorities and to think about the needs of the students. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to advocate.”

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