School psychologists to SED: Kids need us on their team

Christopher Columbus HS’s Dr. Marc Spinrad testifies. Dave Sanders

Christopher Columbus HS’s Dr. Marc Spinrad, who heads the UFT’s 2,800-member social workers and school psychologists chapter, testified at the state Education Department hearing.

More than a dozen UFT school psychologists uniformly panned latest “mandate relief” proposals from the state Board of Regents at a state Education Department hearing in Brooklyn on June 28. At issue are guidelines that would waive the requirement that school psychologists and specific psychological evaluations be part of Committee on Special Education (CSE) processes.

The UFT members were joined by school psychologists from other parts of the state, professors, graduate students, private-school practitioners, administrators and parents. The speakers uniformly agreed that the proposed changes would rob children of the expert evaluations they need and deserve and would marginalize psychologists.

The UFT’s Dr. June Feder, a clinical consultant with the union’s Member Assistance Program, testified that modifications in mandates would fail to realize the desired cost savings and “could easily lead to complications that might very well carry an additional cost and, more importantly, create undue risk for the children and families the CSE process is designed to serve.”

The kinds of “undue risk” that might result where vividly demonstrated in the testimony of Dr. Jeremy Sawyer, a bilingual school psychologist at Brooklyn’s PS 120. “I shudder to think what would happen to a child like the one at my school who suffered episodes involving physical spasms, uncontrollable yelling and loss of memory if it had not been for the IEP team …conducting a complete evaluation,” he told the state Education Department. Neither the parents nor the administrators had the expertise to evaluate the problems. The IEP team, however, did. They systematically investigated the episodes, ruled out emotional causes, and then requested an EEG to test for partial seizures. “For a family with minimal insurance, the IEP team intervention made the difference between an accurate diagnosis and ineffective or potentially harmful approaches to helping the child,” Sawyer reported.

He added that “if it’s not mandated, it’s not going to get done” in a budget- cutting climate, and that “if these mandates are passed, we’re going to need another civil rights movement.”

Christopher Columbus HS’s Dr. Marc Spinrad, who heads the UFT’s 2,800-member social workers and school psychologists chapter, sketched the school psychologist’s key role “in the comprehensive evaluation of a student’s cognitive functioning. Information regarding cognitive ability comes from multiple sources, and the school psychologist is in the strongest position to use these multiple sources of data to address the student’s cognitive functioning,” Spinrad informed the hearing. “This expertise minimizes the impact of biases and limitations of standardized norm-referenced IQ measures, especially for children from diverse racial, linguistic or economic backgrounds.”

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