Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee can justifiably claim progress in cleaning up some of the school system's historically deficient delivery of special education services. In the summer of 2007, 979 court-ordered hearing officer determinations--formal orders to the school system to place students in special ed programs--languished unimplemented in bureaucratic limbo for as long as four years. That backlog has been rolled back substantially.
But a recent memo to principals from chief academic officer Carey M. Wright indicates that serious problems remain at the other end of the pipeline, before students are declared eligible for special education. When students are first identified by parents or school staff as having possible disabilities, they attempt to address the issues in a regular general education setting. If that doesn't work, children are supposed to receive a formal evaluation, with tests, observations and interviews.
But in August OSSE (Office of the State Superintendent of Education) informed the District that there were more than 400 incomplete special education evaluations and IEP meetings -- sessions between parents and staff to develop an Individualized Education Program for each special needs student. It's earned the District a "Needs Intervention" status for compliance with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (IDEA)
"The untimely evaluations may equate to serious delays in providing necessary accomodation and supports to students with special needs," Wright wrote in the Nov. 3 memo. She said some of the evaluations may be showing up as incomplete because they were incorrectly entered into the special education data base.
In any event, she announced that DCPS would be "undertaking a major initiative over the next two months to address and resolve" the tardy evaluations and IEP meetings. Principals will be held accountable for cleaning up the situation--either entering the correct data, conducting evaluations or holding IEP meetings--by mid-January.
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