Approaching school districts with special education questions can be intimidating for parents, so the state Department of Education is hoping a new call center will help provide important information and resources to ease those concerns.
The Special Education Call Center was launched in late July, and is staffed with three part-time consultants, with a fourth one at the ready, to answer questions from families and the general public about information and resources related to special education laws and the rights and protections of students receiving special education, officials said.
People can reach the call center, in either English or Spanish, by dialing 860-713-6966 from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (excluding holidays).
“Our main goal that we are trying to accomplish is to expand our structures of communication, making sure we’re responding in a timely manner,” said Sinthia Sone-Moyano, the state Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner for Educational Supports and Wellness. “We all know that when families could be frustrated or just want information, if they’re waiting or don’t receive a call, that can be cumbersome with a process that could be new. And it’s scary, to be honest, for some parents who have never experienced their child going through this process.”
While it is a state Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education Call Center, officials there work with staff at the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC), who help identify people to staff the center.
“We have a strong relationship with our CPAC,” said Bryan Klimkiewicz, Special Education Director for the state Department of Education. “Some states do not, unfortunately, so we are very fortunate in that our collaboration is strong and we’re able to engage in efforts like this.”
Klimkiewicz said everyone who is taking calls has personal and/or professional experience in special education.
The nature of the calls can vary depending on the situation, Klimkiewicz added.
“Most parents call because they either have a question about their own child or young adult related to special education. Many parents call us because they have an upcoming meeting and they want to make sure they understand how to prepare for a meeting like that,” Klimkiewicz said.
A parent will sometimes call if their child has been recently suspended or going through a disciplinary issue, and want to know more about practices and procedures.
“They do get information directly from their district but they also call us to verify, you know, is the district following the protocol the way they need to be,” Klimkiewicz added.
Sometimes, calls will be a way for parents to get to the right resources.
The call center is modeled after a similar initiative in Rhode Island, which saw a reduction in formal complaints against school districts.
While reducing formal complaints is not the main goal of the call center – parents will always have that option – it goes to show that when parents understand the process, it can help avoid a formal complaint, Klimkiewicz said.
Sone-Moyano said the call center is a way to get information to families in a timely fashion, while also acting as a bridge between the family and the school district, whose staff, in the end, are delivering the services to the family.
“But we’re there as another layer of support for families and the community,” she said.