While the school year at Des Moines Public Schools started off with primarily virtual learning for students, that doesn’t mean a lot of in-person education isn’t taking place throughout the district. In fact, each week nearly 1,500 DMPS students are in a classroom or working one-on-one with a teacher at school, from labs at Central Campus to special education programs.
To put that in perspective: the 1,500 students doing in-person learning at DMPS at this time are more than the total enrollment at 258 Iowa school districts.
Serving the educational needs of special education students is an important part of the in-person learning currently underway.
“Currently, we have nearly 600 students with IEPs being served in-person in our buildings,” said DMPS Executive Director of Student and Family Services Shelly Bosovich. “More than 5,000 IEP meetings have been held since June 30 with a 98% parent participation rate. Progress monitoring is continuing, and meetings are being held to adjust services and supports based on data.”
IEPs are Individual Education Programs. Team meetings are held for students with disabilities to discuss the individual needs of the student, review current data, and develop a plan that includes services to be provided in virtual, hybrid and fully in-person environments. Each team follows the same process and protocol but makes decisions and develops the plan for services based on each student’s needs. Plans are documented and all students with disabilities receive services individually or in small groups with their special education providers, as prescribed by the team.
“Any family wishing to have an IEP meeting can request one through the special education teacher or principal,” said Bosovich.
We stopped by several schools this week as special education teachers and students were hard at work, and shared some photos below.
When it comes to special education, a well known name around DMPS in recent years is Joy Rector. Joy, whose birth name has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of the impact she would have on people, keeps racking up recognition for her trailblazing role in the Inclusion Revolution at Roosevelt High School.
The Iowa Council of Administrators of Special Education awarded Joy the Tyler Green Scholarship, which was presented to her at Roosevelt on Thursday afternoon by ICASE President-elect Amy Alfrey.
ICASE has presented the $500 scholarship annually since 2007 to a high school senior or first year graduate who has done something significant in their life for themselves or others despite a disability. It honors Green, a Waterloo native who had cerebral palsy and produced a DVD for his Eagle Scout project called “Ability Awareness” that was distributed to every school district in Iowa.
One of Joy’s nominators for the award was Roosevelt special education teacher Kelly Mackey who lauded Joy, who has Down’s Syndrome, for spearheading an extracurricular sports program at the school that has major plans for expansion, COVID pandemic notwithstanding.
“Joy was instrumental in getting our unified bowling team started (see link above) which has led directly to other unified sports like track and basketball, not just here but at schools all across the district,” Mackey said. “She became one of only five ‘global messengers’ chosen by Special Olympics to tour and speak and spread the inclusion revolution while she was still a student here.”
Joy hopes to use the scholarship to continue her education at Iowa State University. When Alfrey called recently to notify her of the award, she let out a shriek.
“I yelled to my mom upstairs and frightened her,” she said. “She thought something happened to our dog. I’m very glad to get this.”
Joy’s leading role in establishing extracurricular activities for DMPS special ed students is just the latest layer of services provided for them, even as the district continues to operate a primarily virtual, online model while Iowa remains a hotspot for the coronavirus.