Parents want clarification on proposed changes to Cobb special education

education icon with silhouette of teach in front of class, holding a baton to a board.

by Rebecca Gaunt

Reports of looming changes to special education in the Cobb County School District have circulated for months, but a lack of official communication from the district has parents confused and frustrated.

Cobb is reportedly dissolving certain self-contained classroom settings, but solid answers about which ones and when those changes will take place have been hard to come by. The changes will reportedly affect Foundational Skills (MID) classes in kindergarten, first, and second grade, and Core (EBD) and Autism Bridge classes in middle school.

Heather Allison’s eighth-grade son has autism and attends middle school in South Cobb. She told the Courier they moved to Cobb because Douglas County didn’t provide the kind of setting her son needed. He was placed in a self-contained Core class.

She said she was informed by her son’s teacher that his class is being phased out and he would attend regular classes in the general education setting for the second semester, starting in January. He started attending some regular classes to prepare for the change, which has already resulted in him receiving an in-school suspension. According to mom, no IEP meeting took place before the changes were implemented.

“He cannot cope,” she said. “He gets so overwhelmed.”

Additionally, he struggles with making eye contact, which caused conflict when one of the general education teachers did not understand that was a result of his autism, she said. 

He has always been in a self-contained setting, and she is not only nervous about finishing his eighth-grade year, but what will happen in high school.

“They said he’s going to have to figure it out on his own,” she said.

She is requesting an emergency IEP meeting with the hope of finding another option. The only other option she said the school offered was virtual learning which, she learned during the pandemic, doesn’t work for him.

The Courier reached out to the district three times with questions about community concerns. Cobb County School District spokesperson Nan Kiel declined to answer the Courier’s questions about what changes are planned, when new placements will be made, how many students will be affected, or when the district plans to formally communicate the changes to parents.

An undated district document given to the Courier details proposed changes to the Core  (formerly called EBD, emotional and behavioral disorders) and Bridge (formerly called Autism Bridge) programs in middle school.

According to the document, the leadership team has been “reviewing programming specific for students with behavior deficits, executive functioning deficits and social deficits that are on general curriculum to determine if revisions should be made to prepare students to be successful for high school and increase graduation rate for students with disabilities.”

It also states that academic rigor and pacing are impacted by behavioral and social needs, as well as the need for teachers to teach the curriculum from three grade levels. The intent is to serve these students through general education or in a small group setting at their home schools.

For parents who have had to fight for inclusion, the news that the district may be making such a shift is positive.

But for the parents who say their children need the extra support, it’s producing anxiety. Especially since the district is making them chase down details.

One parent posted on social media that he wasn’t aware his child’s middle school class was being dissolved until a recent IEP meeting, leaving him feeling unprepared.

Also being phased out, according to district staff asking not to be named, Mild Intellectual Disability (MID), recently renamed Foundational Skills, starting with kindergarten and first grade, with second grade to follow.

A  parent told the Courier her child’s setting is being dissolved for the 2024-2025 school year, leaving her with difficult decisions to make for next year. After weeks of rumors and asking questions, her concern was finally confirmed by a district staff person. She requested to the Courier that the details remain private as she was concerned the employee who told her might face repercussions from the district.

“I’ve started quietly letting other parents know so they can start reaching out to the district, not that it will do any good, but at least we can make our feelings known,” she said.

Christina Pereira learned of the pending changes from a Facebook post by the parent who was surprised in the IEP meeting. 

Her stress and questions lingered through the Thanksgiving break. In her child’s IEP Monday, she was able to work out that her son can remain at his current East Cobb school next year, rather than return to his home school, even though his class will no longer exist.

“But he won’t be trying to figure that out while figuring out a new school at the same time,” she said. “I figure it will be good practice for high school…They should have explained things from the beginning. It seems like they are still figuring things out as they go as well.”

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.