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New task force to target special education reform

Gov. Snyder is focusing on reforming Michigan's special education system to help special needs children reach their full potential.

Governor Rick Snyder is focusing on reforming Michigan's special education system to help special needs children reach their full potential.

The creation of the new task force was announced Friday and will be led by Lt. Governor Brian Calley. The task force includes a representative from northern Michigan, Diane Heinzelman, who is the Director of Special Education, Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District and Chair of the Michigan Autism Council.

The task force will develop policy recommendations to address the key findings of Calley's recent statewide special education listening tour that led to a formal presentation to the State Board of Education.

"The Special Education Reform Task Force will continue the great efforts started by Lt. Gov. Calley as he spoke to fellow parents about their experiences within the existing system," Snyder said. "This group will help us remain focused on putting Michigan's special needs children and their families front-and-center when considering reforms to this vital component in our educational system."

Five subject areas represent key findings from touring and meeting educators and parents across the state:

  • Developing a more inclusive and transparent rule-making process
  • Improving access to quality services
  • Ending the practice of restraint and seclusion
  • Creating a better dispute resolution process
  • Support parents more with resources and options

The Crawford Oscoda Ogemaw Roscommon (COOR) Intermediate School District services more than 1,000 special needs students and its superintendent Greg Bush appreciates the Lieutenant Governor's proactive steps in addressing special education.

"If we can follow any design that the Lieutenant Governor comes up with, we will gladly do that for the betterment of our student body," Bush said.

Danielle Barnes has a son with autism in a COOR program that teaches special needs students life skills and takes them to different job sites until the age of 26.

"Both my husband and I are older parents and so there is a concern of ours what is going to happen to him once he reaches that age of 26 and later on," Barnes said. "So, the support needs to be even more even after they get out of the school."

Lieutenant Governor Calley addressed that concern in his report. To read the full report of key findings click here.

"All children deserve a chance to lead self-determined and independent lives" said Calley. "We can do better and with the input of thousands of parents and the task force's recommendations, we will do better."

Snyder has asked Calley to wrap up the task force and present its recommendations by the end of the year.

The members of the task force include:

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley; chair

Melody Arabo (elementary teacher, Walled Lake Schools / Michigan Teacher of the Year 2014-15)

Mary Bouwense, president, Grand Rapids Education Association, veteran special education teacher

Elmer Cerano, executive director, Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service

Teri Chapman, director, Michigan Department of Education Office of Special Education

Michelle Fecteau, State Board of Education member

Diane Heinzelman - Director of Special Education, Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District, Chair of the Michigan Autism Council

State Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, member, Senate Education Committee

Laura Jones, founder, Special Education Advocacy & Development

Scott Koenigsknecht, superintendent, Ingham Intermediate School District

State Rep. Frank Liberati, member, House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors

Marcie Lipsitt, founder, Michigan Alliance for Special Education

Karen McPhee, Gov. Snyder's Education adviser

State Sen. Phil Pavlov, chair, Senate Education Committee

State Rep. Jim Tedder, member, House Committee on Educator

Eileen Weiser, State Board of Education member

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