Parents are encouraged to contact the administrator at the local school of attendance for a description of services offered. Billings Public Schools provides a comprehensive special education program that serves students who need individual educational services. Depending on need, some students are fully included in general education with modifications and minimal support from special education staff. Other students are taught in the general education classroom with special education supports. Some students receive pull-out services while others spend half or more of their day in a special education classroom. Our Special Education Department staff includes teachers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, sign language interpreters, paraprofessionals, psychologists, vision specialists, nurses, social workers, and others.
Parents, Guardians, and Community Members,
Last fall (2022) at the School Board’s direction, we commissioned a formal review of the School District’s special education program. Our objective was to take as wide a view as possible of our obligations under special education law and how we are undertaking those obligations. We asked two experts in that field to conduct the review: Dr. Perry Zirkel and Sowmya Kumar. The scope of the review and the biographical sketches of the reviewers are here (link).
Dr. Zirkel and Ms. Kumar’s report can be read here (link). The report is going to be extremely helpful in assisting us to reinforce what we do well and to improve areas needing attention. For example, the number of formal complaints filed against the School District are fewer than what Dr. Zirkel would expect to see in a School District our size; however, he recommended a few changes to our policies, which the School Board will be asked to review this spring. The reviewers also found that the customer service approach of our special education department needs improvement; we will work to improve that part of our work, as well as implement other recommendation presented by Dr. Zirkel and Ms. Kumar.
The reviewers concluded:
Billings Public Schools is a respected school district with strong, student-centered leadership; competent, knowledgeable, energetic, passionate, caring, and hard-working staff; and committed parents and community members who are invested in supporting the District and its students. By thoughtfully and mindfully addressing the needs of students with disabilities, the District can not only continue to maintain compliance with state and federal requirements but also achieve sustainable student success for years to come.
This report contains many recommendations for the District to consider in improving its special education program. District leaders may want to share the report with all stakeholders—parents, teachers, administrators, Board of Trustees, and community members for their review. With their input, the District may then want to develop a continuous improvement plan that prioritizes these recommendations for immediate and future implementation.
We look forward to continuing our work to improve our special education program because the bottom line is our students deserve the best education we can provide. This report will help us in that effort.