Am. Samoa DOE To Review Special Education Division

admin's picture

Complaints from parents lead to reassessments of students

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Nov. 26, 2014) – It was because of "numerous complaints" from parents of children with disabilities, that Education Department director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau says she ordered a thorough "review" — not an ‘audit’ — of the Special Education Division (SPED), which has since been completed and ASDOE is working to address the problems cited in the report.

Vaitinasa has also ordered a re-assessment of some 900 students in Special Education because a lot of students have been identified with special learning disabilities, but this may not be the case.

The SPED review was conducted in June and July of this year by a team of specialists from Hawai’i and they found, among other things, a lack of competent personnel and a lack of supervision in the division. ASDOE-SPED received $6.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education.

Asked why she requested the review, Vaitinasa said "there were numerous parental complaints lodged with the Office of Protection and Advocacy for the Disabled" and when she took over the directorship post early last year, it was brought to her attention by the OPAD director.

She said she was constantly contacted by OPAD about parents at their office with complaints and she requested that the letters be sent to the main DOE office. The letters were then referred to SPED for review.

"But the letters became numerous," Vaitinasa said, adding that she then scheduled meetings with the entire Special Education Division to discuss what was going on. "I also wanted to know the specific concerns and how SPED will address the concerns," she said in an interview at the DOE main office in Utulei. She said an opportunity and time frame was given to SPED to work on addressing issues raised by parents, but there were not many results from SPED.

Therefore, she ordered a complete review of the Special Ed program by a group of Hawai’i based Special Education teachers, who are from Kapolei High School and Ka Waihona o Ka Na’auao Public Park Charter School — the two Hawai’i schools are partners with ASDOE on special education and other matters.

From the charter school is Misipati Karapani, who is Samoan, and a Special Ed administrator with a Masters degree who is also the vice principal of the school. The other members of the team were from Kapolei, along with ASDOE’s consultant Dr. G. Howard, who led the team conducting a full review of the entire SPED operations.

"Among the many issues identified in the team’s review were: morale is low, the leadership is very weak and there are other things that were cited in the report, which told us that service by SPED to our children is not good," Vaitinasa told Samoa News.

Vaitinasa says that she along with SPED met with OPAD and its board regarding the findings of the review and "we appreciate their (OPAD) support" and both sides will work together on making sure that issues cited in the review are addressed as well as "upgrading and updating individualized education program (IEP) for students, who are protected by federal law."

She also pointed out that ASDOE receives $6 million to provide services to children in SPED. "So the question is — are we using the $6 million to the max, to help the children? Are we seeing children progress?" she asked.

"According to the review team, there is a lot of non-compliance, they don’t see it on the records. So there are a lot of things that we need to do and we are responding to them," she explained. "All of the statements from the review are now being addressed, in areas such as updating and upgrading the IEP of students."

According to the director, she has ordered a re-assessment of some 900 students in SPED, to get an accurate number of students, who are identified as "special learning disability, or SLD)".

She said the assessment, or test for students, is in English, while these students’ first language, is Samoan, which is the language they grew up in at home, and their main language of communication in family surroundings as a child.

"And the child comes into special education and that child is helped and assessed in the English language," she said. "So this young child, who doesn’t speak English and then has a disability has a double barrier to be able to access his or her learning."

"So when I looked at the review of the Special Ed, there are lot of our students who are identified as having a ‘special learning disability," she said and noted that she asked Dr. Howard, who is a professor with the University of Hawai’i "to conduct another review of all these students."

She theorized that many of the students who are labeled SLD are not really faced with a learning disability, it's really just a language problem.

"I believe that a lot of students are miss-assessed in Special Ed. So we are reassessing all the students right now, we’re looking at their IEPs," she said. "I’ve asked Dr. Howard to translate the questions in Samoan or have a Samoan translator present during the assessment."

Vaitinasa did acknowledge that children with several disabilities — such as students with severe physical conditions or brain disabilities are easily identified, and these students do need special assistance.

"However, students with a big language barrier, we have to really be sensitive and use the right format to conduct their assessment," she said. "And I’ve told Dr. Howard to ask questions in Samoan in order to get a better assessment of these students and even use a Samoan translator to ask the questions. So those kids... just need a little bit more time, and regular teachers need to help them out."

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment