Parents, advocates not happy with new role for Richmond principal

The decision by Richmond school officials to transfer an elementary school principal into the position of exceptional education specialist even though he doesn’t have a background in the field is not sitting well with parents and advocates for special-needs students.

The move makes Daryl C. Roselle the lone exception among 16 people in similar positions in the city of Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico when it comes to credentials. The others have state license endorsements in a wide range of special-education fields, including intellectual disabilities, speech pathology and emotional disturbances. Roselle’s endorsements are in administration and elementary education.

“I truly believe this is a place where you want someone with some experience,” said Karen Guadalupe, whose daughter with Down syndrome attends a city elementary school. “I’ve been learning a lot along the way, but I’m self-taught. When you start talking about programs and IEPs (Individual Education Plans), you want someone who knows what he’s talking about. You want someone who is well-versed.”

Roselle’s background is in school administration. He spent at least three years as an assistant principal at Woodville Elementary School before being promoted to principal at Blackwell last summer. He was removed from that school in late April amid allegations he used his school’s gymnasium for an unapproved, after-hours fraternity party.

School officials promised to investigate the allegations and take appropriate action. Three months later, they quietly transferred Roselle to a central office job.

They denied requests for a copy of the report from the investigation and initially declined to discuss Roselle’s qualifications for the position.

After two days of denied requests, school officials made a brief statement on Tuesday.

“In Richmond Public Schools, we utilize inclusive practices, a research-based approach, to support students with disabilities,” said the statement, which was released via email by Steven W. Bolton, who works in the public information office. “This collaborative learning environment has as its foundation the general education curriculum, coupled with the accommodation and strategies that meet the needs of students with disabilities. Mr. Roselle’s strong background in elementary education, curriculum and instruction supports the implementation of this research-based strategy.”

Roselle has not responded to requests for comment.

Administrators in other local school systems have also declined to comment on how they fill similar positions.

Officials in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education, which has a department in special education and disability policy, also declined to comment. The school conducts ongoing education courses for teachers, including those in Richmond Public Schools, and helps administrators, such as principals, meet state endorsement requirements.

“We don’t have anyone who can comment theoretically on the Richmond administrator story. Maybe after more facts come out,” Michael D. Frontiero, the spokesman for the department, wrote in an email.

Roselle is now one of three elementary exceptional educational specialists. The city also has four such specialists assigned to secondary schools. Each person overseas a specific group of schools and acts as the go-to person for issues that can’t be handled on the school level.

Roselle’s lack of experience doesn’t sit well with Bradford Hulcher, the executive director of the Autism Society, Central Virginia.

“It’s not something you learn on the fly,” she said. “It takes education and it takes experience.”

Jennie Irwin, the mother of special-needs children at city elementary and middle schools, said her fear is that school-based personnel who have helped her family won’t receive the help they need from downtown.

“I worry that you have a guy who’s out of touch, who doesn’t know how to support the special-education team,” she said. “Special education was the one thing Richmond really did well, but now I’m concerned the people in the schools won’t get any support.”

The state has not required topic-specific licenses or endorsement for administrators since the early 1990s. There’s a single, general administrative endorsement designed to allow school systems the flexibility to fill openings quickly.

Larry Davis, a Seattle-based special-education advocate and former elementary school teacher and principal in California and Washington, said special training wasn’t necessary if the person possessed the right communication and interpersonal skills.

“It could work,” he said. “It comes down to communication…. If you’re someone who can take a good read of the group rather than taking action or control, it could work.”

Without those skills, he said, “it could be really challenging.”

Special education is the most complicated field in education, with a wide range of state and federal rules and regulations governing how students are treated.

Guadalupe said trying to educate the person who’s supposed to lead the process is one step too many.

“Having a special-needs child is a very delicate situation,” she said. “You’re already trying to prepare. You want your child to have the best life possible. You want to embrace, you want to meet other people who are truly concerned. You don’t want someone who is just in a position.”

On that, Davis agreed.

“Kids who are on the special education path, it’s an amazing path,” he said. “We all have some buy-in. We’re all connected in some way.”

And, Hulcher said, everyone has some responsibility, too.

“I think when people go in (an IEP meeting), they take for granted that everyone is qualified,” she said. “They wouldn’t think to ask. But they should.”

Parents, advocates not happy with new role for Richmond principal | Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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