Smithfield parent spearheads special education committee

Smithfield parent spearheads special education committee

SMITHFIELD – Holly DelRossi admits she didn’t know much about autism when her son was first diagnosed 18 months ago. Wanting to learn all she could, DelRossi began to search for local resources and discovered a special education advisory committee for parents. The only problem was that Smithfield’s committee had been defunct for nearly five years.

DelRossi met with the school’s Director of Special Education Eileen Crudele and asked, “What’s the plan to get this group going?”

Today DelRossi volunteers as the chair of Smithfield’s Special Education Local Advisory Committee, or SSELAC, and has anywhere from 10 to 20 attendees at each meeting.

“It started off for me personally as a need,” DelRossi said. “Now I advocate every single day for my son.”

The group is made up of parents, administrators, and teachers who work to provide a greater understanding and inclusion of students with special needs. SSELAC organizes sensory friendly events for children, hones in on areas of the school that need improvement, and provides support for parents.

“It’s a passion of mine to really get people to accept children with differences,” DelRossi said.

The number of students within Smithfield requiring special education is increasing. According to the school district’s Director Crudele, there are 336 kids in the district requiring independent education programs.

Though she can’t say for sure why parents are choosing to enroll their children in Smithfield, she suggests the school’s positive atmosphere plays a role.

“I do know that we have an all-inclusive philosophy,” Crudele said.

The number of students requiring Individualized Educational Plans or IEPs increased substantially just within the last school year alone.

More than 40 children transferred into the town, a majority of whom, Supt. Robert O’Brien said, came in with IEPs.

“We have one of the best special education departments in the state,” O’Brien said in an interview last month.

DelRossi said there is still plenty of room for improvement.

SSELAC is advocating for more integrated classrooms, paraprofessionals, and a medical release form to be provided to the school’s busing company.

Currently Anna M. McCabe Elementary School’s pre-K class is the only integrated classroom in Smithfield. This means that students with autism or down syndrome can play alongside those without.

DelRossi said this kind of integration is critical to normalize differences and decrease the risk of bullying.

“It starts with kids at a young age,” she said.

SSELAC also wants to partner with Smithfield’s busing company to improve communication between drivers and students. DelRossi thought of this when she tried to inform the busing company that her son is non-verbal. The company, she found out, would not have even known he was autistic.

DelRossi began to think about students who may have seizures or other medical conditions that bus drivers should be aware of – now SSELAC is proposing a voluntary medical release form.

At times, the personal nature of this volunteer work can wear DelRossi down but she said the key is to find joy in the little things, like when her son says, “Hi.”

“It’s the best thing in the world,” DelRossi said, visibly tearing up.

SSELAC’s next sensory friendly event is will be held at Smithfield High School on May 6, from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Members of the Smithfield Fire Department will help familiarize kids with the fire department and fire truck sirens.

For DelRossi, this is all part of the bigger goal of inclusion.

“It may not happen when my son is in school, but it will still be worth it,” DelRossi said.