Lehigh Valley

Innovative Arts Charter School principal denies special ed non-compliance accusations

The recently-hired principal of the nearly one-year-old Innovative Arts Academy Charter School in Catasauqua denied accusations from a special education teacher at the school made during a board meeting Wednesday that the educational needs of students in the program are incompliant with standards set by the state's department of education.

Principal Douglas Taylor denied any incompliance within his school's special education department; he said that there are 37 students assigned to the program and that the two teachers and one paraprofessional (teacher's assistant) is three students under the state requirement. 

"We are no longer in compliance with the special ed charter recognized by the state," said teacher Ann Tarafas.

She was referring not only to her department's reduced staffing count from five to three, she said, but also its inability to serve the educational needs of students, especially the writing and implementation of their individual education programs (IEP) and providing student supplemental support requirements. 

She also cited her current inability as only one of two teachers to provide "push-in and pull-out" classroom services whereby students receive specialized attention in addition to what their regular grade level or subject teachers are instructing.

Taylor said the problem may be with what or how the special ed teachers are teaching or some other operational issues.

Tarafas said to the board, "Non-compliance means the state can shut us down."

She said state's special ed guidelines are not being observed by Innovative Arts.

Other teachers added every classroom with a special ed student in it needs a paraprofessional to assist the teacher in the students' classroom instruction and that only behavioral support is inadequate.

Taylor disagreed and said the school is furnishing the necessary services associated with current IEPs and every student does not require one-on-one attention in the classroom from a paraprofessional.

Parent Charlene Smalls voiced her concerns about her grandson who, for most of the school year, was making progress in his learning, but has more recently began shutting down and becoming increasing disengaged with his schoolwork. She asked if the special ed staff reductions were negatively affecting her grandson's educational progress.

Smalls also questioned the board's two-hour private executive session at the onset of Wednesday's meeting. She asked if the board's overly long meeting showed simple courtesy to waiting parents, staff, and the media for the meeting to resume and move forward.  

Board president Kelly Bauer apologized for the long wait and said the board's top priority is always the students.

In other business, the board tabled a discussion on staffing roles for the 2017-2018 school year and also accepted the resignation of board member Mark Prostko, a chef who cited increased work responsibilities for his departure. 

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