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Fixing special ed Buffalo Public Schools start effort to deal with problems noted by report

Buffalo School Superintendent James A. Williams should be given credit for not only commissioning a study of the district's special-education program, but for acting quickly to address looming concerns.

He is acting in light of a critical report from Educational Support Systems, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm, that assessed the special-education program as nothing short of a mess. Williams has come up with an ambitious but necessary reform plan.

He intends to establish teams of guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, special-education teachers and parents at each school. He also intends to relocate special-education support staff from administrative offices to individual schools, continue intensive efforts to improve literacy in the early elementary grades and give special-education students greater choice of schools.

Systematically addressing the special-education program, and evaluating whether or not students are properly designated for inclusion, is a good place to start. In the city district, 9,432 students -- or 19.8 percent of total enrollment -- are in special education.

Part of the reason apparently stems from misdiagnoses of children who really have problems that relate to literacy. Better evaluation, teacher training and a wide range of other solutions are possible, and the district also must ensure that designations aren't linked to state aid allotments. Parents, too, must play a more informed role in deciding appropriate settings for their children.

Problems with special education did not spring up overnight, nor will they be solved that quickly. It is to Williams' credit that he was interested in shining a spotlight on the problem, and that he is seeking those solutions.

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