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In his recent letter to the Harvard Hillside, Dr. Thomas Jefferson made it appear the Department of Education’s threat to withhold federal special-education funds from Harvard that he confronted in his first weeks as superintendent was attributed to “historical problems” rather than the current leadership of the program. I find this misleading and unfair, and write to set the record straight.

First, as context, the Massachusetts Department of Education reviews local compliance with special-education requirements by visiting all districts on a five-year cycle. Given the complexity and scope of special-education regulations and procedures, the department commonly cites areas of non or partial implementation, which districts must address in a corrective-action plan. These plans are monitored by the department at mid-cycle.

The Department of Education conducted a special-education program review in Harvard in spring 2002, and a mid-cycle review in 2005.

According to public documents accessible on its Web site, the department found that the corrective-action plan filed by the former superintendent and current special-education director in September 2002 wasn’t effectively implemented despite district assurances. Moreover, some new areas of concern were identified.

I leave it for others to decide whether it’s laudable that problems that were allowed to persist and grow over a period of almost three years were remedied, as Dr. Jefferson contends, in a matter of months once penalties were levied.

This said, based on my 19 years in Harvard as student services director and elementary principal, I concur with Dr. Jefferson’s assessment of the competence and quality of the Harvard special educators. The staff I knew and worked with were second to none. I know from personal experience the challenge of providing for a wide range of learners in a small district while laboring under tight fiscal constraints.

In a better world, community leaders would support rather than attack conscientious efforts to carry out the mandate to educate all children.



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