Alon Yaari for Holliston School Committee

Holliston SEPAC Questions

Question #1: What is your philosophy of special education? Do you see any
challenges in our school district regarding special education?

School districts have a legal, moral, and ethical obligation to meet federal and state educations standards for every student. My personal philosophy goes well beyond this. Schools have the moral and ethical obligation to provide what it takes to get the best from our children. A few years ago, we were residents of a nearby district that historically provides services only to meet minimum DESE standards. Now, we are lucky to live in a district that embraces a more expansive and inclusive approach. As an example, the metric of out-of-district placements demonstrates that there is an
awareness here that not all needs can be met by town resources. In addition, my experience with two children with IEPs confirms that the Placentino and Miller Schools have some amazing special education staff.
However, other parents have shared that delivery of services in the higher grades is not consistent. The challenge of adequately assessing needs and providing required IEP services to students in all grades is our biggest challenge. The second challenge is ensuring that continued funding is there. We consider it a big win when the salary for a single special educator is funded, yet discussions for new field and building facilities deal with huge dollars amounts without hesitation. Imagine a School Committee where Mr. Yaari raises his hand to ask, “…and how does this budget request compare with underfunded special education needs?”

Question #2: If a parent approached you with a Special Education concern, and stated that he/she felt that this was a systemic problem, what would you do?

I was once that parent in the Natick School District. It was awful to be ignored and hear the same from other parents. For some, it took lawyers and lots of money to get their needs met. My best answer was to move out of Natick. My friend Shai Fuxman was going through the same problems and he instead chose to run for School Committee and try to change things. Now starting another term, improving special education services in Natick has been one of his top concerns. Shai has endorsed my campaign and remains available as a resource for his experiences with furthering special education issues with the Committee, convincing the public, and attracting resources into the district.
Many parents have come to me to discuss how their children are not getting proper services at school. Some have warned me that the attentiveness at Miller school will fade at RAMS and be spotty at the high school. This is my struggle too and I am entering with a strong relationship with other IEP parents and no history with the existing Committee. This time I am the one stepping up and trying to join the Committee. The leadership at SEPAC has my contact information. Call, email, meet me in person, bring me your stories, good and bad.
Committee members have unique access to staff, students, parents, and the community. Problems that only one child is facing – and also systemic issues – should have equal access to Committee resources. In addition, my main goal on joining the Committee is to improve communications in both directions.

Question #3: What is your experience/understanding with inclusion and what do
you think our school district can do to increase inclusive practices?

I have learned first-hand about why inclusion relative to special education is so important. My younger daughter has a chromosomal condition and presents as autistic. She gets along wonderfully with other children and they are generally open to her as a friend. But sometimes parents pick up that she is “different.” It is never easy to explain, “I’m sorry but Suzie’s parents say they are busy and she cannot come over to play.” To each his own, we appreciate and adore the majority of people who only see a wonderful child.
Until now, my youngest has been at a private school but she will be starting fourth grade at Miller School in the fall. The special education staff at the school have been bringing her in regularly to meet her future peers, both during a special-needs pullout time and into a general classroom setting. They are meeting her concerns for social-anxiety issues while bringing her into the mainstream classroom as just another kid. These practices that normalize differences are the right path to follow for all grades.