A Special Take on Special Education in Colorado 

What can the State of Colorado do to improve the educational experience for individuals with  differences? How can parents of children with special needs be empowered more effectively?  To find out answers to these and other questions, we sat down with Stephen Fusco.  

Stephen, who plans to graduate in June with his PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Morgridge, was recently appointed to the Colorado Special Education Advisory Committee (CSEAC). The committee provides policy guidance to the State on issues relating to special education. CSEAC is mandated by both state and federal law. Representatives include parents of children with special needs, service providers, and other members of our community. As we started out conversation, Stephen voiced concerns that many in our community have expressed, saying that he was “surprised at how little attention children with special needs still receive,” especially in Colorado. This is one of the reasons why he wanted to participate in CSEAC. Representatives can not only participate in critical advocacy for children, but also inform important decision-making at the state level. 

Our Interview 

Let’s talk about coronavirus. The current situation has caused significant concern among some special needs parents and advocates in the context of education. While the fear of “losing ground” certainly weighs heavily on a lot of parents’ hearts, practical and legal issues abound.  Some Colorado parents of children with special needs have expressed concerns that the use of virtual or remote learning is, in and of itself, a violation of FAPE. Can you share your thoughts on the interaction between coronavirus restrictions, remote learning, and FAPE?    

As Stephen let us know, “FAPE is about the services offered to students. Those services are determined by an [individualized education program/plan or] IEP.” To the question of whether a “school district is providing the services that [a specific] IEP calls for, ” he said, “that is hard to say. Families should look at what is called for in the student’s IEP and compare that with what the school district is providing.”  Thanks to potential legal issues related to this topic, we’d like to pause to note that nothing mentioned in this article should be interpreted as legal advice or an endorsement of any legal actions.  

Some local parents have found variable in-person coronavirus restrictions (like the prohibition of equipment like CPAPs in a classroom setting) to be problematic. Others have worried that required screen time for remote learning could be detrimental to children who, as an example, experience seizures with prolonged display use. What, if anything, do you think that the State of Colorado could do to improve the provision of special needs education during these challenging times? 

“A couple of things come to mind. The state needs to provide concrete guidance and ensure compliance with applicable special education rules and regulations… [and] there needs to be more funding for special education services. The State of Colorado needs to provide more  money specifically earmarked for kids with special needs.” On the topic of funding, Stephen let us know that two considerations are particularly important: targeted or individualized funding and flexibility regarding the spending of funds. As he pointed out, each child is unique and every child deserves the educational services, equipment, and supports that “they need to be successful.”  

You’ve mentioned the importance of IEPs. In the status quo, though, many IEP meetings are being held virtually and may include professionals who have never even met the children they are meant to support. Is there a solution to this issue?  

“You always want the professionals with the most direct knowledge of the child present. Parents have the right to ask that those who have the most direct knowledge be present. No one should be making decisions about a child without that knowledge – no matter what the setting.” Stephen went on to explain that, in addition to parents having the right to request the participation of those with the most understanding of their child’s experience and needs, alternative modes of participation may be available. As an example, if someone familiar with a child’s needs is unable to attend a virtual meeting, they may be able to provide a written report.   

For many parents of children with special needs, the reality of “parent as para” has resulted in significant challenges (including job losses). As parents increasingly fill the roles of therapists and others for their children, what role do you think the state should or could play in providing guidance, resources, or even compensation to parents?  

“It’s hard enough to be a parent” and, for parents of children with special needs, “this role can be even more intensive.”  Parents “should not be expected to fill the role of an educator or paraprofessional… they should not be burdened in this way.” As many would likely agree, “it is very difficult to play the role of parent and educator.”  

In addition to the potential strain placed on parents who must take on one or several new roles in the context of their child’s education, Stephen let us know that this reality can also be problematic for educators and other professionals. When the roles of these individuals, who often have years of highly specialized education and experience, are adopted by necessity by others, it can create a cascading disservice. In addition to being problematic for parents, “it dismisses the trained professionals as if anyone could fill these roles, which is untrue.” While there may not be an answer to the “parent as para” problem, Stephen noted that the State could provide “additional guidance, training, and information.” 

A lack of in-person education may translate into a lack of interventions, difficult IEPs, and delayed or absent evaluations. Do you think that the potential delays experienced by children and their families will have long-term effects on their outcomes?  

“There is no doubt that Covid-19 is going to have long-term educational implications for all students.  There are probably more significant concerns for students with disabilities.” The potential for more concerns for children with special needs stems, in part, from an important element of the special education model: one-on-one attention. This is necessarily highly personalized and geared towards helping “address achievement gaps” and the needs of each student. It is, ideally, something that all students should receive. Without this, and other critical educational experiences during the pandemic, “there will be significant repercussions that we can’t even understand yet.”  

Evaluations include a “body of evidence.” Typically, “standard suites of assessments” are an important component of evaluations. Some have suggested that assessments cannot be completed (or must be delayed) due to the pandemic. Stephen explained that this is a “cop out.” Students  can be meaningfully assessed using other sources of information. Teachers, he noted, ”can assess whether a child may have special needs” even in the absence of formal assessments. A teacher’s perspective, informed by their education, professional experience, and interactions with a child is  invaluable. Observations by parents and other informal assessments can also contribute critical data. “Teachers and parents need to get creative – what is an evaluation? It is not just a standardized test.”  

So, Stephen, what do you hope to do? What issues are on your mind? 

“One of the things missing from the conversation is the importance of transportation to educational outcomes. If you look at the past year, there’s a whole group of students we’ve lost because technology wasn’t available and we don’t know how to get education to them. If we could get those students to an educational provider, then what changes could we have seen for that group of kiddos? No one is talking enough about the link between transportation and educational outcomes.” These outcomes are not specific to children with special needs. An example provided by Stephen was children experiencing homelessness. If children move (to a hotel, shelter, or other temporary accommodation), or have no fixed home, “transportation could ensure they get to stay at the same school.”  

“What doors could we open for these extremely forgotten children? My hope is that people begin to look at transportation as a service that is as important as any special education service in a classroom. It is directly related to how well or successful that student will be. Let’s talk about what transportation means and how we can do it differently.” 

Resources for Parents and Community Members 

  • Individualized Education Programs or Plans (IEPs) -   
  • State special education guidance - If you would like information on the current guidance provided by the State, including disability-specific information, visit COVID-19 and Special Education. In addition to activities and other resources, the State provides virtual meeting information for various topics. 

About Stephen 

Stephen Fusco holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Education in Behavioral and Learning Disabilities. His professional roles have included Vice President of Policy and Research at A+ Colorado, Educational Advocate and Pro-Bono Attorney with Advocacy Denver and The Center for Special Education Law, and Deputy General Counsel with Denver Public Schools. He currently serves as corporate counsel for HopSkipDriveRecent publications include Access to Mental Health Services in Denver Schools: Recommendations for Mental Health Funding in DPS , COVID-19 Learning Loss: Recommendations to Improve Student Outcomes During COVID-19 Pandemic, and Colorado School Districts: Initial Response to COVID-19. 

A quick disclaimer: none of the viewpoints or opinions expressed or inferred herein should be interpreted as legal advice. All questions, and their answers, are personal and do not necessarily represent the views of the Morgridge College of Education or the University of Denver. 

 

MCE Hooding Ceremony Information

The MCE Hooding Ceremonies for 2020 and 2021 doctoral graduates of the Morgridge College of Education are under way! Attendance is limited, but every ceremony will be live-streamed online. Please check back regularly for updated event information.

On This Page:

Schedule Change

The schedule for the August 20, 2021 ceremony has changed: there will now be a single ceremony beginning at 9:00am. All 2020 and 2021 graduates will participate in one ceremony.

Registration Closed

The deadline to register for the August 20, 2021 hooding ceremony has passed. All inquiries about the ceremony should be sent to mce.marketing@du.edu.

Confirming Registration: Registered participants will receive a confirmation e-mail around 2 weeks before the event. If you are unsure if you registered, or would like to verify your registration, please send a note to us and be sure to include your full name.

Late Registration: If you missed the deadline but still want to participate, send us an email with your name, dissertation title, and advisor. We may be able to process your request but cannot guarantee that your information will be included in the program or other resources.

Important Safety and Attendance Information

DU Covid-19 regulations and limitations will apply to all ceremony dates. For daily updates on DU’s current restrictions, please visit DU Coronavirus Alert Levels.

Safety Basics

The following guidelines are subject to change and were last updated on June 27, 2021.

  • A maximum of 4 guests are allowed.
  • Graduates will be treated as DU community members and will need to complete a COVID-19 survey at check-in for the event.
  • Masks will be required at all times.

Watch Ceremonies Live

To view any of the MCE Doctoral Hooding Ceremonies, visit our MCEatDU YouTube Channel. Livestreams will be available during each event. Recordings will be available after.

Graduate FAQs (What to Expect)

The Day of Your Ceremony

  • Where is the ceremony?
    In the Village Green, which is the outdoor space between Ruffatto Hall and the new Dimond Residential Village.
  • How many guests can I bring?
    You may bring a maximum of 4 guests.
  • When should I arrive? Where should I go?  
    Arrive 30 minutes before your ceremony, please. Meet us at the Outdoor Classroom.
  • Do I need to stay after the ceremony?
    Please do! Immediately after the ceremony, graduates can go to Ruffatto Hall to get professional photos taken with a backdrop.
  • Should I wear my cap and gown?
    Yes! For more information on what graduates wear, check out Graduation Regalia.
  • Do I carry my hood or wear it before the ceremony?
    Bring your hood with you, but do not wear it.
  • What actually happens during the ceremony – what can I expect?
    Graduates will process (march) into the ceremony space, as will the faculty. Program-by-program and faculty-by-faculty, individual grads will be invited up to the stage to be “hooded” by their faculty advisor (or faculty designee). Grads will have an opportunity to say a few words to the audience (both in-person and virtual!). Speaking time will be limited to 2 minutes. Grads will then exit the stage and return to their seat. There will be welcoming remarks by the Dean and closing remarks by an Associate Dean.
  • Where should I park?
    Daily parking should be available for all ceremonies. If passes or permits are issued, students will receive them via e-mail.

Steps to Attending

Important: Please complete the DU Visitor Access Protocol before arriving on campus.
  • For the question, “Please provide the name and email address of the DU employee who is coordinating your visit” enter:
    1. First Name: Eric
    2. Last Name: Mareck
    3. E-mail: Eric.Mareck@du.edu
  • For the question, “What building(s) and room number(s) will you be visiting?” enter:
    1. Building Name(s): Ruffatto Hall
    2. Room Number(s): 100

Ceremony Dates and Times

2020 Ceremonies  

Hooding Ceremonies for 2020 Graduates will be held on May 14 (1-3:00pm), June 10 (3-5:00pm), and August 20 (3-5:00pm).

2021 Spring & Summer Ceremonies 

The Hooding Ceremonies for Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, and Summer 2021 graduates will be held on two dates: June 10 from 9:00am to 1:00pm and August 20 from 9:00am to 1:00pm. Exact times will be based on department or program.

Schedule

The schedule for the ceremony has changed: there will now be a single ceremony beginning at 9:00am on August 20, 2021. All 2020 and 2021 graduates will participate in one ceremony.

At-a-Glance

May 14 June 10 August 20
1:00pm 9:00am 12:00pm 3:00pm 9:00am 12:00pm 3:00pm
2020 – All
2021 – ELPS
2021 – HED
2021 – RMS
2021 – C&I
2021 – CP
2021 – SP

Video & Photography

Photography

A photographer will take photos during the event. After the ceremony, graduates can have a professional photo taken.

Videos

For livestreams or recordings, visit the MCEatDU YouTube Channel.

MCE Supports BIPOC Students, Staff and Faculty

Published April 20, 2021

Dear MCE Community,

The past weeks have again demonstrated the continued necessity for action toward social justice and against racial violence. We live and learn in a time of on-going tragedy marked most recently by mass shootings in Atlanta, Boulder, and Indianapolis, the police-shootings and deaths of Adam Toledo in Chicago and Daunte Wright outside of Minneapolis, and the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. These tragedies are pressing upon our hearts, our minds, and our souls. Together we struggle to make sense of the role of a college focused on education, mental health, and information science in supporting our BIPOC community and building a better world.

We write to you today to provide resources of support, engagement, and action toward addressing systemic racism and building a better world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

Support

For those in our community who might appreciate specific mental health support, we want you to know about services available to members of the DU Community.

Engagement

For those who would like to engage with other members of the MCE Community in providing peer-to-peer support, processing current events, and/or just desire a space to be in community rather than alone right now, we want you to know about these organized meetups and conversations that have been planned across the College. These include program/department specific groupings, student affinity groups, and a special student-to-student only group organized by COESA.

Action

For those who want to participate in one or more of the newly forming MCE DEI Council Task Forces, including a specific task force to address support and success of BIPOC students, we want you to know about these on-going action groups that are designing and implementing new reforms, practices, and programs to help MCE better live its mission and continue creating an intentional culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusivity as we battle against racial discrimination, inequality, and dehumanization.

We recognize each individual incident of gun violence, police violence, and racialized violence is but symptoms of broader systemically designed problems related to the white supremacist and settler colonial foundations of our country and the global economic system. Within these systems of oppression, it is evident that different cultural communities are impacted differentially, and by design, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are particularly targeted for discrimination and systemic disadvantage.

We categorically denounce white supremacy and settler colonialism.

At the same time, we recognize that higher education and the University of Denver itself, were founded and established through practices and policies that benefitted from and perpetuated these systems of oppression. Any effort to engender equity and subvert foundational inequality at interpersonal, organizational, and systemic levels of influence will most likely be insufficient, particularly in light of the generational pain, harm, and dehumanization that historically marginalized communities – and BIPOC in particular – have endured. The collective trauma and grief that our BIPOC community members are acutely experiencing right now is a clarion call for immediate and on-going redress that we are committed to collaboratively supporting. Over the rest of Spring Quarter, we commit to informing the MCE Community of our on-going efforts to support, engage, and take action in making progress toward serving our BIPOC community members. BIPOC students, staff, and faculty deserve the best of MCE and our best must continue to get better.

We hope you will join us in the ways you find meaningful and rewarding. We are dedicated to making MCE a stronghold of social justice, which means we will continue to take action, reflect, take stock, and return to action. Such is our social justice praxis.

 

Sincerely,

The Morgridge College of Education

You’re Invited: Webinars for Incoming Students 

Do you have questions about financial aid? Are you curious about research opportunities? Join us virtually to learn more about the MCE experience. Check back regularly for updated webinar details and new events. If you a miss a session, don’t worry – we’ll post recordings of past events.  

Upcoming

Program Information  

Details coming soon. 

  • When: June, 2021  
  • Zoom Link: Coming Soon 

Past Events

Incoming Student Social

This is an opportunity to connect with other incoming students within your program. This will be informal, allowing you to get to know future classmates without a structured agenda.

Recorded: June 8, 2021

A public video is not available for this event. 

Deposited Student Webinar 

Get ready for all things Morgridge! Learn about “next steps” including preparing for registration, important dates, orientation, your first day, and much more! 

Recorded: May 27, 2021  

Life in Denver 

Want to know more about the Denver metro area? We’ve got you covered. Join us for this webinar to get connected to local resources and learn about neighborhoods. 

Recorded: April 29,  2021 from 1:00pm – 2:00pm MT

Get Engaged: MCE Centers, Institutes, and Research Opportunities  

Have you heard of the PELE CenterOr the Ricks Center for Gifted Children? These are just two of the centers and institutions at MCE that promote innovative approaches and provide research opportunities.  Explore our directory to learn more about these and other institutes.  

Recorded: April 21, 2021

Graduate Student Life

Learn about graduate student life at MCE! In addition to student activities, you’ll find out about the College of Education Student Association (COESA).

Recorded: March 31, 2021

Get More Info 

If you have questions, please reach out to us. You can find additional information about campus, housing, and more at Resources for Students.   

April 9, 2021 – On February 19, 2021, it was announced that Dr. Karen Riley, Dean of the Morgridge College of Education, would be leaving to join Regis University as Provost. Dr. Bruce Uhrmacher has agreed to serve as Interim Dean of the Morgridge College of Education, starting May 1, 2021.

Dr. Uhrmacher has been a long-serving member of the MCE faculty, with expertise in curriculum and instruction as well as research methods and statistics.

Dr. Uhrmacher has served as both past Chair of the Educational Research, Policy, and Practice department and current Interim Chair of the Higher Education department.  Having earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and two masters degrees at Indiana University and Harvard University, respectively, Professor Uhrmacher was awarded a Ph.D. in the design and evaluation of educational programs from Stanford University.

MCE is extraordinarily fortunate to have Dr. Uhrmacher lead MCE through the transition to our next Dean.  Dr. Uhrmacher is a deeply thoughtful teacher-scholar and caring leader who exemplifies DU and MCE’s commitments to the highest standards of integrity and collegiality.

April 2, 2021 – I’m blessed with the guidance and wisdom of many teachers and mentors. I have my colleagues, friends and institutional leaders who offer advice. The shelves in my office are crammed with books, each holding a different key to the puzzle of effective teaching. My students are always a good source of wisdom and counsel on how to teach more effectively and with greater integrity. All I need do is listen and not discount their feedback or inflate my ego with their complementsBut my most faithful and oldest teacher is nature. When I go for a walk the bigness of the natural world helps unravel my questions and problems. I often find wisdom in the ways that nature responds to challenge and creates opportunities for growth. For instance, life is both fragile and tenacious. This is a good reminder to me that the learning relationships I seek with students are fragile (easily broken) and tenacious (can weather through tough times and challenges). 

Nature’s wisdom and its application to teaching has been on my mind lately, or more accurately it has been on my heart. The last few days the wind has been blowing with a persistent fierceness. I can hear it moving across the landscape, gathering speed, before it whips through the trees outside my window. It sounds like the shingles on the roof will be torn free at any moment. Nature teaches me that sometimes the best way to handle the wind of change is to get out in it and feel the fullness of its power. So that is what I did. I walked the high hills near my house. A treeless landscape where the wind is free to flow over and through the ravines, ridges and particularities of the land. It fills all of existence. It fills my very being with its energy and passion 

Strange thing about wind. It is both a physical and spiritual phenomenon. Many, Eastern, Indigenous and Western wisdom traditions speak of wind as the creative force of the gods, divine beings and eternal ones. In these stories, wind can be as gentle as the breath of life and as violent as storms stirring the waters of the earth in preparation for that which is yet to be born. The winds of my teaching life are also like this. They can be creative and destructive, containing both physical and spiritual dimensions. 

As I walked, I reflected on the relationship between wind and teaching; both as an element of creation and a force for change. I was reminded of Cornel West’s description of “prophetic pragmatism” as a unique American philosophy for both acting as an agent of change while living into the perpetual and destructive nature of racism. Prophet in the sense of being a voice of radial social critique of inequalities and dehumanizing structures. Teachers can be prophetic winds speaking truth to power, creating spaces where marginalized learners experience humanizing forms of pedagogyTeachers can enact a form of tough love directed toward the betterment of schooling as an institution. The poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer in her poem “Home” describes this form of love in this way; icomes crashing in / like western wind, breaking branches / and rearranging the yard, as if to say / it is here to change everything”. Yet prophetic-love is also pragmatic. It is a form of wisdom that realizes the struggle for freedom is elongated and complicated requiring a long-view and the capacity to adjust. It is a learning tradition that relishes in personal struggle, always leaning forward in gentle and persistent provocation to challenge systems of power and privilege.  

As I walked, I noticed that at times the wind was to my back. I was a participant in the process of change. Dust and rocks dislodged by my feet scoured the trailside, changing the ground with each step. Such is often the case when I take an activist role to help sustain change in schools or in my classroom. But when I turned a corner in the trail, the wind and I were now face to face. If I wasn’t careful, I was pushed off balance and found myself stumbling along on unsure feet. For teachers as prophets they are sometimes part of the winds of change. And at times they must face into the winds of institutional normalcy that are often set against their will toward freedom and liberty. West’s invitation toward “prophetic pragmatism is particularly relevant in these moments. Sailors know that by setting their sails at 22 degrees to a squall they can tack into the wind and move toward, not away, from their destination. Pragmatism is a form of strategic tacking in response to the winds that push toward the status quo and maintenance of power and privilege in schools and classrooms.  

My last reflection on walking into and with the wind is that it is hard work. I arrived home feeling refreshed, blown clean, but also slightly disoriented. My body still remembered all the ways it had swayed, stumbled and sought out firm footing. Even standing still I was still in motion. The question I now held was how to remain strong and resilient while practicing “prophetic pragmatism” in my teaching? Success in teaching, as practiced in Western-industrial societies, is often measured and calibrated according to external standards. Many teachers “measure up” to these metrics but the cost can be high in terms of their heart’s longing and burnout. The teacher as prophet is walking a path that never ends and thus the future is not theirs. I find an element of comfort in this truth. My success as an agent of change cannot be measured and catalogued as some fixed goal to achieve, but it can be witnessed in the day to day actions I take to create life-giving instructional spaces. Additionally, knowing that the trail of freedom and justice is long and winding reminds me of the importance of resting and participating in self-care. Being a prophet of a future that is not my own means that I can rest without guilt, renewing my heart and spirit for those times when the wind is in my face. But rest is not retreat or complacency. I must always remember that even in a restful state my body, my heart, my soul knows its true purpose is to keep dancing with the winds of change.   


Copyright © 2018 University of Denver. | All rights reserved. | The University of Denver is an equal opportunity affirmative action institution
X