Mineola touts strong special ed program

Mineola special education chairwoman Laurie Melesh said the district has tried to avoid overclassifying special education students. (Photo by Tom McCarthy)

Special education administrators at Mineola schools cited a drop in new special education students over eight years in a presentation at a Board of Education meeting last Thursday. 

Catherine Fishman, director of pupil personnel, and Laurie Melesh, the  Committee on Special Education chairwoman, presented a graph showing that the number of children classified in need of special education has dropped from 35 new students in 2011 to seven  in 2019.  

“We have seen a gradual decline, which is great,” Melesh said.

It is not that special education students are going away, Fishman and Melesh said, but that the district has attempted to avoid “overclassifying” students.

“Historically, Long Island has been cited by the New York State Education Department, most districts have been cited, for overclassifying students with disabilities,” Fishman said.

Fishman said that in Mineola educators challenge the “traditional” view of how to deal with special education students. 

The percentage of student body members classified as a special education student has also dropped from 20 percent to 11 percent, Melesh said. The national average is 13 percent, she said. There are over 80 students in the special education program, Melesh said.

The reason for this is not because there are fewer children eligible for the program, it is because the district has taken new measures to avoid overclassifying children. Not all children need the same level of treatment, Fishman and Melesh said. Some can be in normal classrooms, but just may need individual help, they said.

Melesh said that the district is having more occupational therapists go to kindergarten classes, helping children with motor skills and educating teachers on how to handle children who may need special treatment.

They also celebrated the Mineola Alternative Program School ( or “MAPS”) program which is an effort to work with high school students with excessive absences by having teacher and Trustee Paul Pereira personally pick them up and teach them at the middle school in a shorter school day. A total of 13 students are enrolled in the program for the 2019-20 school year with six expected to graduate, according to the presentation.

The special program also is continuing to implement the “CT Lab” model which opts for a smaller student-teacher ratio, individual student-teacher conferences and an emphasis on time efficiency.

Fishman spoke of a student “Nicole” who recently graduated and thanked the school’s special education program for helping her get to graduation.

Superintendent Michael Nagler and the board applauded the presentation with Nagler saying that it is important to get special education students to meet state standards as much as possible albeit with a strong safety net.

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Tom McCarthy

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