Attorneys General Ask Education Secretary DeVos To Restore Guidance To Student Aid Borrowers

BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Attorneys general from 20 states and the District of Columbia are faulting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for rolling back Obama-era guidance they say is helping protect student loan borrowers.

In a letter sent Monday, Democratic attorneys general Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Lisa Madigan of Illinois called on DeVos to restore the memos instituted by the federal Education Department last year under President Barack Obama.

The attorneys general said the guidance is designed to help borrowers get accurate information about their loans and repayment options — ensuring the consistency of service provided by student loan servicers and increasing accountability.

The letter was co-signed by attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

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AG Madigan & 20 AGs Oppose U.S. Dept. of Education’s Rollback of Student Loan Servicing Reforms

Reforms Informed by Madigan’s Investigation Into Student Loan Giant Navient Revoked by U.S. Department of Education

Chicago —(ENEWSPF)—April 24, 2017.  Attorney General Lisa Madigan today joined with 20 attorneys general and the Office of Consumer Protection of Hawaii calling out the U.S. Department of Education for abdicating its responsibility to millions of student loan borrowers and their families by revoking critical reforms designed to help borrowers avoid default and curtail loan servicer misconduct.

Madigan along with the other attorneys general and the Office of Consumer Protection of Hawaii sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposing the Department’s rescission of guidance to protect student loan borrowers and reform the student loan servicing industry.

“These reforms were a result of my investigation into one of the largest student loan companies in the country that showed the industry has repeatedly put borrowers into more expensive repayment options,” Madigan said. “The U.S. Department of Education must take action to protect student loan borrowers and reform the industry to put their needs ahead of private companies’ profits.”

Last year, in the wake of Attorney General Madigan’s investigation of Navient, the Department of Education issued guidance for the student loan servicing industry. The guidance required student loan servicers to inform struggling student borrowers about the availability of affordable income-based repayment plans. Madigan has since filed a lawsuit against Navient and its predecessor Sallie Mae for the companies’ widespread failures and mistreatment of student loan borrowers.

The Department of Education’s reforms addressed many of the findings of Madigan’s investigation into Navient by ensuring that student loan borrowers got accurate information about their loans and repayment options. The reforms also ensured consistency of service, increased servicer accountability, and enhanced transparency by student loan servicers. Critically, these reforms aimed to improve borrowers’ access to affordable loan repayment plans designed to help borrowers in distress avoid default. Now the Department’s action will instead leave student loan borrowers vulnerable to poor practices and abuses that the servicing reforms were designed to stop.

In the letter, Madigan and the attorneys general state the reforms are critical to helping borrowers who are struggling under the weight of their student loan debt, evidenced by an increasing rate of federal student loan defaults. In 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated that more than 25 percent of student loan borrowers were delinquent or in default on a student loan.

“Many such borrowers would benefit greatly from entering income-driven repayment plans but are prevented from doing so by student loan servicer misconduct and misinformation,” the letter states.

Joining Madigan in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the Executive Director of the Office of Consumer Protection of Hawaii.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

Source: www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov

Moran: Congress doesn’t back Trump’s education budget proposals

TOPEKA — The proposed 2018 federal budget from President Donald Trump’s administration that slashes $54 billion in discretionary spending — including a $9.2 billion cut to federal education spending but $1.4 billion more for school choice — largely doesn’t have support from Capitol Hill.

That was the message U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, delivered to members of the Kansas State Board of Education during a special meeting Saturday in Topeka.

“I think the dramatic reductions in spending would not be supported by enough senators to pass,” he said. “I want to make sure the process we’ve been through as an appropriations committee is what the end result is.”

“President Obama’s budget, I don’t know if it ever received a single vote for the eight years he was president,” Moran continued. “This president’s budget will receive little support as well.”

Vouchers and charter schools, which Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are championing but which are a major concern for the public education community, can’t become a reality without congressional approval, Moran said.

“You can’t take money and put it into vouchers without Congress allowing that,” Moran said, adding that there haven’t been conversations among other lawmakers about pushing legislation forward to create vouchers. He said DeVos told him that there will be no federally mandated school vouchers for Kansas, and he said he will hold her to that promise.

“Her commitment to me was that there would be no federally required vouchers,” he said. “We would be an active opponent to any kind of increase in the federal government telling us how to run our schools here in Kansas.”

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said that if Trump’s proposal to cut Title II funding for teacher quality initiatives and more money is put into charter schools and vouchers, Kansas will be “disproportionally hurt.”

“We don’t get a lot of that money anyway,” he said. “Charters and vouchers have a difficult time in our Kansas Constitution and rural state,” he said. “We’re not asking for more (money) but we can protect what we have. We’re asking for what is supposed to be coming to Kansas.”

When it comes to money for education in general, Moran said, the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed an FY17 funding bill that keeps education funding relatively flat.

“Education would receive the funding that it’s expecting and it will be consistent with what it has received in the past if we’re successful in getting out of the continuing resolution and getting these bills passed,” he said.

Moran said the labor, health and education spending bill for fiscal year 2017 is one of the largest outside of defense spending. He told state board members that “Labor H” is one of 12 spending bills that will be passed and the congressional continuing resolution will “go away” on or about April 28.

“We are headed in the direction I think you like,” Moran told board members. However, funding increases proposed by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for Title I and II and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, are “very modest,” he conceded.

Funding for preschool and afterschool programs “has diminished just a little bit,” and career and technical education is going to stay at level funding, Moran said.

More money needs to flow from the federal level to the states to educate special education students under the IDEA, Moran said. He said that while Congress has never fully met its obligation to fund 40 percent of the total amount of money needed to educate children with disabilities, he will “continue that effort” for federal funding of the IDEA so state money for general education doesn’t have to be used to meet federal requirements to educate students with disabilities.

Board member Jim McNiece told Moran that he and his fellow board members want to make sure the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, is predictable so that the board’s “Kansans Can” vision “to lead the world in the success of every student” can move forward.

“We have a very challenging plan. It’s a moonshot, as we say, to do this,” he said. “It’s our unique plan. It’s not Florida’s or Washington’s or Maine’s. It’s Kansas. In that plan are some things we would like to continue to be funded.”

The ESSA, signed into law by President Obama in 2015, reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The ESSA allows states to have flexibility in determining accountability standards for student success.

McNiece said he would like to see how the state’s ESSA plans, which Kansas will submit to the U.S. Department of Education in October, play out. He said he is concerned, however, that the Trump administration hasn’t named an assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education who will approve ESSA plans.

“There needs to be an apparatus to have these plans approved,” McNiece said, adding that the concern is felt by elected and professional education officials nationwide. “There’s no review process. There’s nobody at home to do it. They’re not saving any money and they’re not helping us in this regard.”

Jim Porter, chairman of the board, told Moran one of his chief concerns is that Kansas is having a hard time attracting and retaining quality teachers.

“In some places, it is a crisis,” he said, adding that mentoring and professional development programs need to be funded. “If we don’t have teachers in our classrooms that are prepared to meet the needs of today’s students, we very well are not doing the best for them.”

Porter said even though the federal government provides just 10 percent of the state’s total education funding, what money Kansas gets from Washington, D.C., is important, particularly for remedial programs and increasing teacher quality.

“We couldn’t do without that,” he said, “especially in this era of state budget cuts. It would have a huge impact if we didn’t have it.”

Williams Elementary School Sounds Better | Preston Hollow People

Teachers' frequency modulation systems sync with students' hearing devices. (Photo: Tanner Garza)

Teachers’ frequency modulation systems sync with students’ hearing devices. (Photo: Tanner Garza)

The halls at Sudie L. Williams Elementary School echo with the familiar sounds of teachers explaining lessons and students answering queries.

However, it is only because of the school’s unique Oral Deaf Education program that dozens of students on campus are able to hear those questions at all.

Williams has long served students with auditory impairments in kindergarten through fifth grade. It is the only school in Dallas ISD that utilizes additional teachers and special technology to improve students’ access to grade-specific curriculum and instruction.

Students with a range of issues, including physical deformities that affect their ability to hear, travel to Williams daily from throughout the district and as far away as Farmers Branch and Carrolton to attend the school.

“We service a special population, because we have the special tools to do so, but all kids are special,” said Principal Michael Jackson.

Beginning last year, a greater emphasis has been placed on including auditory-impaired students in more general education programs at the school, rather than routinely pulling them from classes to receive specialized instruction in reading, he said.

Each classroom at Williams is helmed by a pair of teachers — a general education and a special education instructor — who teach in tandem. They also don personal frequency modulation systems that use radio waves to deliver speech signals to students who wear hearing aids and cochlear implants.

The technology, which syncs with the students’ hearing devices, provides students better access to sound and allows them to use their listening and speaking skills rather than sign language when interacting with each other and their teachers.

As a result, most of the school’s 40 auditory-impaired students are able to participate in a typical classroom setting alongside their 200-plus hearing classmates.

“We really do try to urge an inclusive environment, so the kids are getting on-grade-level instruction just like their peers are,” Jackson said.

It can be difficult for some students who experienced a delay in being identified as having auditory issues early in their lives or academic careers to adjust.

“They have had to make it the best way that they could with the tools that they had, so they read lips, and they’ll come up with ways to make it,” he explained.
Now, he said, it’s up to the teachers at Williams to use “diverse instructional strategies in order to bring those kids into the fold of understanding.”

The Oral Deaf Education program is “driven by teachers who are super passionate” about giving the students “not only access to instructional material, but also to self-advocacy,” Jackson said.

For example, students are responsible for keeping track of and maintaining their own hearing devices.

(Photo: Tanner Garza)

(Photo: Tanner Garza)

“You have to make sure that you wear it every day, check your batteries and all that,” explained fifth-grader Aaron Caracheo, who transferred to Williams last year from another school.

Jackson said all of the students on campus take the Oral Deaf Education program seriously.

“If a child loses a hearing aid, everybody is scrambling to find it,” he explained. “Think about the level of consciousness the students have to have. They’re not just thinking about themselves. They know that a student won’t have as much access to [instruction] because they don’t have a hearing aid.”

With the help of technology, 10-year-old Carecheo said he can better hear the teacher than at his previous school, where “it was tricky. … I had to ask the teacher again and again if she could repeat” information.

Special education teacher Molly Browning said Williams’ auditory-impaired students “are being pushed more. We are not pulling them out [of class]. We’re not saying, `You can’t do this.’ We’re saying, `You can do this, we’re gonna help.’ ”

Jackson agrees. “We push these kids as hard as we push everybody else. There’s no differentiation in terms of what the expectations are. And they rise up to the challenge. It’s pretty awesome.”

New principal at Canton’s St. Mary’s School starts July 1

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CANTON — St. Mary’s School will have a new principal starting July 1, and other changes are also in store.

Michele A. Meyers, a retired Canton Central School administrator and educator, was appointed to replace Pamela Neal who will teach second grade at the school.

Mrs. Meyers said she’s been a member of St. Mary’s parish for more than 40 years and is looking forward to her new role.

“I feel very dedicated to St. Mary’s parish. I feel this is a good fit for me,” she said. “I believe St. Mary’s School has a lot of wonderful things to offer.”

The school, 2 Powers St., serves about 75 youngsters in grades nursery through sixth who reside in Canton and several other communities, including Potsdam and Ogdensburg.

Registration is being accepted for grades pre-k through fourth. There is a 5 percent discount for those who register by May 15.

Mrs. Meyers has served as president of the school’s Education Council for the past two years.

In a prepared statement, the Rev. Douglas Lucia, parish pastor, said he was grateful that Mrs. Meyers accepted the appointment and grateful for the work Mrs. Neal did to foster the school’s mission during her time as principal.

Mrs. Meyers’ background includes serving as director of special education for more than seven years at Canton Central, where she also taught special education and elementary general education.

At Massena Central School District, she served as director of special education and spent one year as principal of Nightengale Elementary School.

Prior to her tenure in public schools, Mrs. Meyers worked as director of religious education for St. Mary’s parish and St. Thomas More Newman parish.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and elementary education from SUNY Potsdam and a master’s degree in special education from there as well.

Mrs. Meyers also received a certificate of advanced study and a master’s degree from St. Lawrence University in education leadership. She holds New York state certification as both an elementary teacher and a special education teacher and a school district leader.

Some of the new initiatives for St. Mary’s School for 2017-18 include:

Appointment of a family catechist, formerly director of religious education, who will oversee and direct both the school and the parish Christian Formation programs, focusing on getting families more involved in parish and school life.

Beginning Sept. 1, the school’s latchkey program will be expanded to provide supervised care to students before and after school during school and summer vacations.

Upgrades are planned for the building’s interior, including new paintings that will be designed to capture a child’s imagination, a computer lab, renovated office space, a new faculty room and an office and storage space for the family catechist. Volunteers are being asked to assist.

The school will return to having separate classes for second and third graders. The grades have been combined for the past few years.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran addresses Kansas State Board of Education …

The proposed 2018 federal budget from President Donald Trump’s administration that slashes $54 billion in discretionary spending — including a $9.2 billion cut to federal education spending but $1.4 billion more for school choice — largely doesn’t have support from Capitol Hill.

That was the message U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, delivered to members of the Kansas State Board of Education during a special meeting Saturday in Topeka.

“I think the dramatic reductions in spending would not be supported by enough senators to pass,” he said. “I want to make sure the process we’ve been through as an appropriations committee is what the end result is.”

“President Obama’s budget, I don’t know if it ever received a single vote for the eight years he was president,” Moran continued. “This president’s budget will receive little support as well.”

Vouchers and charter schools, which Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are championing but which are a major concern for the public education community, can’t become a reality without congressional approval, Moran said.

“You can’t take money and put it into vouchers without Congress allowing that,” Moran said, adding that there haven’t been conversations among other lawmakers about pushing legislation forward to create vouchers. He said DeVos told him that there will be no federally mandated school vouchers for Kansas, and he said he will hold her to that promise.

“Her committment to me was that there would be no federally required vouchers,” he said. “We would be an active opponent to any kind of increase in the federal government telling us how to run our schools here in Kansas.”

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said that if Trump’s proposal to cut Title II funding for teacher quality initiatives and more money is put into charter schools and vouchers, Kansas will be “disproportionally hurt.”

“We don’t get a lot of that money anyway,” he said. “Charters and vouchers have a difficult time in our Kansas Constitution and rural state,” he said. “We’re not asking for more (money) but we can protect what we have. We’re asking for what is supposed to be coming to Kansas.”

When it comes to money for education in general, Moran said, the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed an FY17 funding bill that keeps education funding relatively flat.

“Education would receive the funding that it’s expecting and it will be consistent with what it has received in the past if we’re successful in getting out of the continuing resolution and getting these bills passed,” he said.

Moran said the labor, health and education spending bill for fiscal year 2017 is one of the largest outside of defense spending. He told state board members that “Labor H” is one of 12 spending bills that will be passed and the congressional continuing resolution will “go away” on or about April 28.

“We are headed in the direction I think you like,” Moran told board members. However, funding increases proposed by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for Title I and II and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, are “very modest,” he conceded.

Funding for preschool and afterschool programs “has diminished just a little bit,” and career and technical education is going to stay at level funding, Moran said.

More money needs to flow from the federal level to the states to educate special education students under the IDEA, Moran said. He said that while Congress has never fully met its obligation to fund 40 percent of the total amount of money needed to educate children with disabilities, he will “continue that effort” for federal funding of the IDEA so state money for general education doesn’t have to be used to meet federal requirements to educate students with disabilities.

Board member Jim McNiece told Moran that he and his fellow board members want to make sure the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, is predictable so that the board’s “Kansans Can” vision “to lead the world in the success of every student” can move forward.

“We have a very challenging plan. It’s a moonshot, as we say, to do this,” he said. “It’s our unique plan. It’s not Florida’s or Washington’s or Maine’s. It’s Kansas. In that plan are some things we would like to continue to be funded.”

The ESSA, signed into law by President Obama in 2015, reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The ESSA allows states to have flexibility in determining accountability standards for student success.

McNiece said he would like to see how the state’s ESSA plans, which Kansas will submit to the U.S. Department of Education in October, play out. He said he is concerned, however, that the Trump administration hasn’t named an assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education who will approve ESSA plans.

“There needs to be an apparatus to have these plans approved,” McNiece said, adding that the concern is felt by elected and professional education officials nationwide. “There’s no review process. There’s nobody at home to do it. They’re not saving any money and they’re not helping us in this regard.”

Jim Porter, chairman of the board, told Moran one of his chief concerns is that Kansas is having a hard time attracting and retaining quality teachers.

“In some places, it is a crisis,” he said, adding that mentoring and professional development programs need to be funded. “If we don’t have teachers in our classrooms that are prepared to meet the needs of today’s students, we very well are not doing the best for them.”

Porter said even though the federal government provides just 10 percent of the state’s total education funding, what money Kansas gets from Washington, D.C., is important, particularly for remedial programs and increasing teacher quality.

“We couldn’t do without that,” he said, “especially in this era of state budget cuts. It would have a huge impact if we didn’t have it.”

Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.

New curriculum brings change to school’s calendar

“The new curriculum is one that we like to think of as a maker space for learning,” said Kyle Dell, chair of the Liberal Arts General Education Revision Committee and associate professor of political science.

In April 2015, faculty approved a revision process for the Guilford College curriculum developed in 1998.

“The process for revising the general education curriculum began in 2011, when the Curriculum Committee began surveying the faculty based on direct experiences and assessment data on the student learning experience,” said Dell.

“The revision was meant to address strategic needs of the College, significant faculty interest in revising learning delivery through the curriculum, dissatisfaction with the performance of some elements of the current curriculum and a number of deferred proposals that would have made smaller changes to the current curriculum.”

A revision committee, the Liberal Arts General Education Revision Committee (LAGER), was assembled to deliver a proposal to the faculty for approval no later than the end of spring semester 2017.

“LAGER has worked with the administration, the senior team, the president’s office, student affairs, alumni and advancement services, external consultants, student government groups and external experts in general education programming from national higher education associations,” said Dell. “Since last year, LAGER has developed a series of draft proposals that have been vetted and discussed by many different groups of faculty, staff, students, administrators and external consultants.”

“We’ve developed an entire curriculum and are close to approval,” said Caleb Anderson, junior and student representative of the clerk’s committee. “Last year, we were still in the process of gathering information for drafting, but now we are in the final stages.”

The new curriculum incorporates changes to allow students to explore their educational passions.

“One of the largest changes is the implementation of ‘Communities in Practice,’ where students will work in campus groups to pursue interdisciplinary topics through experiential learning, projects, off-campus partners and much more,” said Anderson.

In addition to “Communities in Practice,” the revision committee voted to remove a graduation requirement.

“Another large change is the curriculum will no longer require a minor for graduation,” said Anderson. “A third large change comes in the form of ‘Community Week,’ which will be a week in the semester (when) there will be no classes. As a result, the community will have the opportunity to come together to focus on one or more core values through seminars, lectures, games, concerts – the opportunities for where this week could go (is) endless.”

Dell believes the most visible element of the revised curriculum is “Community in Practice” or CiP.

“CiP is a series of common courses and experiential opportunities culminating in a signature individual work by each student around a common theme that transcends the expertise of any one discipline,” said Dell. “For example, a CiP could address suburban sprawl in the Triad or the international response to refugees by nations around the world. These CiPs could leverage existing expertise on campus as well as work with other practitioners to supplement the related courses of a given community.”

The key reasoning behind CiPs is to foster the true interests of students at Guilford.

“The structure of the upper parts of the curriculum is such … that a student is not confronted with random course requirements to check off as you go,” said Dell. “Rather, the experiences and courses cohere (with) a theme, and students can work in teams with others that have a passion for that CiP.”

After considerable discussion and evaluation, LAGER’s proposal was approved unanimously by committee members and has been given to the clerk’s committee to be presented to faculty.

In the meantime, committee members express excitement for the organic nature of the new curriculum.

“Right now, our curriculum for 1998 is a one-size-fits-all approach where choice, coherence and innovation are fairly bounded,” said Dell. “We have built a structure for innovation to happen for many years ahead within the ‘Communities in Practice.’

“Guilford’s seal has a tree on it. We like to think of our new curriculum (as) being rooted in Guilford’s mission, but also growing branches in new and exciting directions in the years ahead.”

With approval from the faculty, Guilford will implement the new curriculum beginning in the Fall 2017 semester.

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Chattanooga learns from Nashville’s special education successes [photos]

Flipping through the pages of her daughter’s yearbook, Debbie McAdams realized there was no longer a page dedicated to a special education class.

McAdams, director of exceptional education for Metro Nashville Public Schools, said this is the moment she realized the significant strides the district was making to include students with disabilities in regular classrooms.

“We did it! We did it!” she told those gathered for a Chattanooga Autism Center conference on Friday.

McAdams, along with Sonya Dobbs, disability services coordinator for Metro Nashville Public Schools, gave the keynote address at the eighth annual conference, talking about the drastic changes the district has made in recent years to include a majority of students with disabilities in regular classrooms with the additional supports they need to be successful.

National research shows including students with disabilities in regular classrooms with appropriate support benefits all students, and helps close the achievement gap — and Nashville is seeing this happen, McAdams said.

Before the district started transforming its approach to special education in 2009, Nashville schools as a whole had one of the lowest percentages of students with disabilities in general education classrooms in the state, and large achievement gaps between those groups of students.

Students with disabilities in Nashville were often segregated from their peers and moved to schools across the county where the specific services they needed were provided, which happens to many students here in Hamilton County.

But Dobbs said Nashville realized it needed to make a transformative change to the way it educates students with disabilities.

“It’s a civil right,” she added.

With the help of parents, community members and educators, Nashville started changing policies and practices. The district began requiring every school to offer a full continuum of services for students with disabilities and focused on including students in regular classrooms as much as possible with the proper supports.

Now more than 70 percent of students in each disability category are receiving meaningful instruction in general education classrooms at least 80 percent of the day, Dobbs said. Students are also receiving specialized instruction, as needed, at whatever school they attend.

In Hamilton County public schools, about 80 percent of students with intellectual disabilities are separated from nondisabled students in Comprehensive Development Classrooms for most of the school day, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Education. Standardized testing data from 2015 shows that in each tested subject, students with disabilities trailed their nondisabled peers by about 30 percentage points.

Dobbs and McAdams told the parents, educators and people with autism gathered at the conference that it hasn’t been easy for Nasvhille Schools to make this progress. They noted the need for in-depth professional development for every educator in the district, the time it took to train principals how to make their school’s schedule work for students with disabilities and how the district had to rework the way it filled out plans for special education students.

Dobbs said the district still has work to do and places where it needs to do better, but encouraged the room of educators, parents and people with autism that fighting for inclusion is worth it.

“It benefits all students,” she said.

More than 700 people attended the conference and spent a majority of the day in smaller seminars where 37 speakers discussed a variety of topics tailored for educators, people with autism and parents. Attendees also got to visit dozens of vendors that provide different services, training and equipment for people with disabilities.

Callie Stewart, assistant principal at Apison Elementary, attended the conference with some of her staff. She said the conference offered great training for educators on best practices and strategies.

“We want all of our children to be successful,” she said.

Stewart said she thinks Hamilton County Schools is moving in the right direction in how it approaches special education. If appropriate, all students should have access to general education classrooms and get the support they need, she added.

Merissa Waldron drove to the conference from Murfeesboro, Tenn., as she has a 17-year-old with autism and was wanting to learn more about how to help her transition to more independence.

It was Waldron’s first time attending the conference, and said it was encouraging and helpful to be around other people who are in similar situations.

“It’s been really fantastic,” she said. “I’m just learning a lot.”

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at krainwater@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.

Little Feet Meet thrills Special Olympics athletes | Public Schools … – Virginian

VIRGINIA BEACH

After competing in their first three events at the inaugural Little Feet Meet, second-grader Brogan Wells and fifth-grader Cameryn Heath were sure about two things: They were having fun, and they were ready to do it again.

The teammates from Windsor Woods Elementary were participating in field events for students with developmental disabilities to compete with the encouragement and assistance of general education peers.

The Little Feet Meet on April 18 at the Tallwood High football field attracted about 320 students from 14 elementary schools. Originally scheduled for Landstown High, the Lions stepped in as hosts, when a tornado damaged part of the Eagle’s athletic field in March.

During the opening ceremony, Superintendent Aaron Spence led the crowd in the Special Olympics oath and spoke on the importance of inclusion. A Landstown junior sang the national anthem.

Many of the events – from standing long jump to ring toss – were of an Olympic-nature, with running, jumping and throwing emphasized. Landstown student volunteers assisted at each station, helping the meet run smoothly.

Though new to Virginia Beach Public Schools, Special Olympics Virginia has partnered for years with school systems around the state to organize Little Feet Meets.

At all meets, the goal is to spread respect, unification, and inclusion, according to Rick Jeffrey, president of Special Olympics Virginia. Those objectives are best met when there are roughly equal numbers of general education students and students with developmental disabilities.

“We have a very good turnout today, and the energy is high,” said Jeffrey. “Sports events like this are a great way to bring inclusion to schools. When everyone is trying to do their best, every person is equal as a teammate. It can help change attitudes.”

Though only elementary school students participated in the meet, Jeffrey expects Virginia Beach middle schools and high schools to pick up on the idea, where the events would be called Big Feet Meets and Champions Together, respectively.

“You could hear the crowd and feel the energy when Aaron Spence led the oath,” said Jeffrey. “We already have success on this level.”

Fun and participation were emphasized at the meet, and the athletes were surrounded by a supportive atmosphere of students, friends and family. Ribbons were awarded to each athlete.

Sandy Beale-Berry said her son, Colin Berry, spent months practicing for the meet with Dylan Williams, and the two Providence Elementary students have formed a lasting friendship.

“Colin was so excited about the opportunity to work with someone who at first seemed a little different than him, but can still do all the same things as him,” Beale-Berry said. “It really opened his eyes. Now, Colin wants to work with Dylan in other areas, like reading and math.”

General election: Corbyn rallies hundreds in Cardiff

Media captionMr Corbyn said all the Tories offered was “fear and misery”

Jeremy Corbyn has held a rally to a crowd of hundreds in Cardiff – calling for voters to join him on a journey of “hope and excitement”.

In his first general election event in Wales, Mr Corbyn visited Cardiff North – a seat Labour wants to recapture from the Conservatives.

He heaped praise on the Welsh Government’s performance in education.

Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies claimed the Welsh Labour team would be “gritting its teeth” during the visit.

Mr Corbyn was joined by First Minister Carwyn Jones at the visit, as well as Cardiff North AM Julie Morgan.

Speaking on Whitchurch Common to a crowd of around 700, Mr Corbyn said all the Tories offered was “fear and misery”.

Image caption

Jeremy Corbyn was surrounded by supporters after he wrapped up his rally in Whitchurch Common

Mr Corbyn said the UK government was slicing the money from normal state schools for free and grammar schools.

He praised the Welsh Government on education and child poverty, but criticised the UK government for cutting the Welsh budget.

“In Wales it is different because you’ve got a government that is determined to properly fund education and give every child an opportunity,” he said.

Friday’s event came after Mr Corbyn said children were being crammed “like sardines” into “super-sized” school classes in England, as Labour focused its general election campaign on education.

But the Tories called the comments “a massive own goal”, saying the Labour-led Welsh Government had overseen increases in class sizes in Wales.

Education in Wales is devolved and Liberal Democrat Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced a £36m fund to reduce infant class sizes in Wales.

‘Hope and opportunity’

In the wide ranging speech, Mr Corbyn said seven years of the Tory government and the earlier coalition had brought “greater poverty, greater insecurity, greater misery”, and that Labour was the party of hope and opportunity.

He said Labour would maintain the triple lock on pensions, while he claimed big firms would not be allowed “cosy” tax negotiations with the HM Revenue and Customs.

Mr Corbyn was surrounded by a large crowd well-wishers and supporters as he left the scene.

Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones said Labour would create a “fairer society” after 8 June.

“The time has come for change,” he said.

Media captionWelsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones said it was time for a change

Image caption

Andrew RT Davies said there are “few bragging rights” for Labour

But Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said: “After nearly two decades in government, Labour’s record is a smorgasbord of failure evidenced by Wales having the worst-performing education system in the UK, the lowest take-home pay, and the longest hospital waiting times.”

Jonathan Edwards, Carmarthenshire East and Dinefwr Plaid Cymru MP, said: “Given the current weakness and chaos plaguing Labour, the prospect of a UK Labour government is a complete fantasy.”

Meanwhile, Rhondda MP Chris Bryant said he was “fully supporting” the leader, despite being a vocal critic when he was voted into the role.


Analysis by BBC Wales political correspondent Arwyn Jones

When it comes to class sizes it is difficult to make a direct comparison with the figure in England because records there are kept of pupils in classes of 36 or more, which is not publicly available in Wales.

There were 4,568 junior pupils – 3.4% – in Wales taught in classes of 31 or more last year, known as “unlawfully large classes”.

The number has more than doubled since 2013 when it was 1,688 – 1.3%.

There are circumstances where a class may have more than 30 pupils, which are called “exemptions”.

Last year, 12,711 pupils were taught in such classes, 9.3% of the total, up from 8,082 in 2013.

However, Welsh Government pointed out that between 2013 and 2016 there has been fall of 41% in the number of infant pupils in unlawfully large classes.