The RI bill would create an oversight body for private education

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PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Parents of students with special needs in Rhode Island have a clear message: They need help.

On Wednesday, parents and their children joined educators and advocates in urging lawmakers on the RI House Education Committee to support a bill that would create a private education watchdog.

“I think it’s a really important step forward,” said Leanne Barrett of Rhode Island Kids Count.

Bill Establishes an Ombudsman for Special Education in Rhode Island. The Ombudsman and his or her office will provide independent oversight and ensure that school districts meet the standards required to comply with Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, for students with disabilities.

The Office of the Ombudsman, which is modeled after the Office of a Child Advocate, will also collect data and feedback from parents and help them resolve any potential disputes with school districts.

“In many cases, parents feel left out,” said Rep. Lauren Carson, sponsor of the bill. “They feel as if they don’t have the resources to fully deal with being qualified enough to understand what the IEP process is.”

Many of the parents who testified at the hearing said their children were denied services or abused. They agreed that the Ombudsman would be able to uphold them.

“My daughter Rachel went without an IEP from 2017 to 2023. There is no IEP. There are no services. Nothing,” said Mary McDonough. “Rhode Island has let my daughter down. They let us down as a family.”

“I can’t help but think, if she had the services when she needed them, would she have had more childhood?” said Richard Casino, who testified while sitting next to his daughter Ava. “Could I have taken her to Disney if I wanted to?”

Some of those who testified in support of the bill pointed to Target 12 achieving which found that dozens of students with special needs in Providence are not getting the services they need.

Those who oppose the bill agree the issues need to be addressed, but question whether creating a new office is the best solution.

“There are models with ombudspersons that I think can work,” said Tim Ryan of the Rhode Island School Principals Association. “But I think we have to be realistic about finances, and say, ‘Where do we organize our finances and our assets for the best benefit of our children?'” “

This is the fourth time the bill has been proposed. There was no vote in Wednesday’s session.