A report released today by the school advocacy group D.C. VOICE has some good and bad news about special education: Eighty-four percent of principals in a survey said their schools were fully staffed and equipped to serve special education students on the first day of the school year.
But those who weren't ready, said they lacked certified teachers as well as speech and physical therapists who could ensure that students got the help they need to function in the classroom.
Fifty percent of the principals who didn't receive all their services reported they were without a special education teacher on Day One, 32 percent said they were without an occupational therapist and 27 percent without a mental health coordinator.
If services are not provided, special education students "won't learn to read, are more likely to drop out and more likely to be involved in the delinquency system," Judith Sandalow, executive director of the Children's Law Center, said at the news conference at the John A. Wilson building. The law center represents numerous D.C. special education students and helped prepare the report based on the survey of 137 principals.
Sandalow described two students -- one suffering from autism and another from a mental illness -- who, respectively, were unable to get textbooks and counseling for several weeks into the school year.
She recommended for the school system to give principals earlier access to incoming disabled students' individualized education plans so they'll have more time to prepare and to provide more training for teachers to better serve the students.
"We were pleased to learn principals felt they were ready on the first day," Sandalow later told D.C. Wire in an interview.
"At the same time, our experience tells us special needs students are a vulnerable group. We look forward to working with [school system officials] to improve the current state of school readiness."