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Facing worried parents, special ed analyst clarifies his role

Weeks after I reported that a Department of Education official steeped in management skills would be evaluating the city’s special education system, parents and advocates remain concerned that he isn’t telling the whole truth about his intentions.

Last night, Garth Harries, the official tasked with reforming special education, traveled deep into Queens to explain his new role at the DOE to hundreds of parents and teachers at a meeting of the citywide parent council for District 75, which serves the city’s most disabled children. Many District 75 parents and teachers worry that the district is at risk because it is expensive and unusual in its structure.

At the beginning of the meeting, Harries confronted the parents’ fears, saying:

I know that there are and have been rumors about my purpose. I just want to be really clear about it: No one has asked me to reorganize District 75. No one has asked me to cost cut. That’s important for all of you to understand. The lens for this work is improve services for students so that our kids can do better.

Despite Harries’ reassurances, parent after parent gave impassioned defenses of the district, often in tears, saying their children had made strides in District 75 programs that they had been told elsewhere would be impossible. They also questioned Harries’ ability to make smart decisions about special education because he lacks experience in the field.
They seemed more reassured after District 75 Superintendent Bonnie Brown explained that she wouldn’t allow Harries to make substantive decisions about instruction without her consent. “If you don’t trust him, at least most of you have some level of trust in me,” she said. “I’m not going to let him screw around with us.”

Watch this video to see Brown, who appeared with Harries before the council, explain how she sees Harries fitting into the DOE’s special education leadership team:

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