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Occupational Therapist, Sibling, Speaker

Education Concerns in Florida

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Black and white picture with a sign stating think about things differently. The word differently is upside down.

When I first moved to Bradenton, I was on a travel contract. This placement was in a local therapy clinic. Part of this assignment was co-contracted into the Manatee County Schools. For lack of better words, I was disturbed by what was seen. Due to state and federal cuts, therapists no longer work for the county itself but contracted in by outside clinics. The therapists are assigned unrealistic caseloads leading in poor service delivery. The other noticeable observation is lack of training to the teachers on how to interact or have children with different needs in their classrooms. Trained special education teachers were not supported and were also in need of training. At one point, there was a confrontation with a school administrator. He was more concerned with the schools aesthetic than a child’s need. Children were being restrained and this is not legal.  I am super happy to announce a bill was passed this year to prevent restraint and seclusion in public schools. I am super hopeful that in the future this will expand to an agency working with children and adults with disabilities. For more information regarding this bill click here

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Recommendations for addressing these issues are complex. There are many systems in play. Administrators need education on the needs of complex students. SEDNET is a resource in this state that is underutilized.  SEDNET stands for Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities. SEDNET projects across the state provide technical assistance and training to support building capacity of local school districts in their efforts to ensure that the needs of youth with or at-risk of Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities are being met educationally and therapeutically. This is a program that is already in existence and needs a presence in every school in Manatee County. After speaking at SEDNET’s annual conference this year, Manatee County underutilizes this service.

​Manatee County Schools just had an increase in the budget approved before the pandemic. Some of those funds has got to go toward quality education for teachers and staff on behavioral interventions that do not include seclusion and restraining. This has been made illegal in most states including New York where I moved from. There are consequences as the child develops if this is the only coping skill for self-regulation and behavioral intervention. I have had parents reach out and ask for recommendations for their children with special needs. I would like to stop begging them not to move here. Unfortunately, the funds were made available for PPE, cleaning supplies, and other supports to open schools back up.

​Bringing back therapist as employees and decrease the amount of subcontracting. I do understand this cost however, this limits the amount of regulation over what is happening. There is decreased supervision over these therapists and unrealistic caseloads being assigned. The earlier the quality of intervention the better. This saves money in the long run. If we can intervene and make some of these individuals improve cognitive abilities, then can be productive member to our community versus relying on government funding such as Medwaiver programs. 

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​I will quickly address the early intervention or Early Steps that is being provided. This is a parent coaching model here in Florida. I agree this is needed however, children need intervention as soon as possible for reasons stated above. Maybe then, they would not need school aged services eliminating concerns listed. This only seems to happen if the parents are educated and have insurance. 

In summary, improve the quality of intervention services early in life with decrease the amount of money needing to be spent on later in the school systems and adult programing when they do not have the life skills to live on their own. None of this is talked about when training future leaders of this area. Hopefully that will change.

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