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Harvard schools pass state special education review with top marks

Last month, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) reviewed Harvard schools’ compliance with state requirements, specifically in the areas of special education and civil rights. In a letter dated March 12, the state officials wrote, “We are pleased to tell you that the Department has found your district to be in compliance with all of the criteria monitored … and no corrective action is required at this time.”

The DESE team was originally scheduled to visit Harvard in May 2020, but the review was delayed because of COVID-19, and the visit finally took place March 1 this year. Marie Harrington, the director of pupil services for Harvard Public Schools, wrote in an email, “I was told that we were the first district to be visited in person since the Covid closures in March 2020.”

DESE conducts this type of review, called a Tiered Focused Monitoring Report, every three years, alternating between two sets of standards. This practice replaces the massive, on-site reviews DESE used to conduct every six years.

In this year’s review, Harvard was rated on criteria related mostly to special education: identifying students for the program; developing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs); providing support services; and offering equal opportunities to all students.

Three years from now, Harvard schools will be evaluated on the other set of criteria, which includes licensure and professional development; parent and community engagement; facilities; time and learning; and equal access for all.

For this year’s review, Harrington submitted extensive electronic documents to show how the district followed state standards for IEPs and other special education requirements. DESE evaluated more than 50 student special education files for compliance with the state standards.

DESE also surveyed parents of special education students in Harvard schools, from pre-K to 12th grade. Of those who responded, 97% strongly agreed or agreed with the statement “My child’s school welcomes all families.” Nearly all parents also said that they felt included as a member of their child’s IEP team.

Lower percentages—but still at least 75%—said that various services in their child’s IEP supported the child’s special education needs. And more than 75% said their children could participate in any sport, club, or other activity they chose to.

About half the parents who responded to the survey said they had attended a Special Education Parent Advisory Council meeting. But 11% said they did not know about the local council.

The Harvard school district is ranked as a Tier 1 Local Education Agency, which indicates a school where DESE has “no concern on compliance and performance outcomes.” Tier 1 schools meet the state requirements and are considered able to direct their own improvement programs.

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