Officials scrutinize special-education services at BASIS DC

August 4, 2013

Local and federal officials are scrutinizing BASIS DC, a charter school known for its accelerated curriculum and rigorous expectations, in the wake of allegations that the school has failed to provide special-education students with legally required services.

The federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation into a complaint that BASIS DC discriminated against students with disabilities, according to federal officials.

Multiple parent complaints also prompted the D.C. Public Charter School Board’s staff to conduct a two-day review of the school’s special-education program.

Board staff found that decisions to reduce students’ services often had not been properly documented, according to a summary of findings posted on the board’s Web site. In many cases, legally required documents called individualized education programs (IEPs), which describe in detail a student’s goals and required services, were either missing from confidential student files or lacked required parent signatures.

In addition, board staff found that BASIS DC placed special-education students in a remedial classroom for failing students, where the special-education students were not provided the reading instruction they needed, according to the summary.

The board has required BASIS DC to fix the problems identified during the review and improve staff training in special-
education teaching methods and law. Board officials plan to meet with school officials four times during the coming school year to ensure that they are making progress.

“I want to underline and highlight the fact that this is a huge area of concern,” Darren Woodruff, vice chairman of the Public Charter School Board, told BASIS DC officials at the board’s July 29 meeting. “We would be very remiss for this to be an ongoing problem or challenge.”

The school, part of an Arizona-based charter network, recognized that the special-education program had problems and in the spring hired a consultant to help design an overhaul, according to BASIS spokesman David Schulz.

BASIS DC has since hired a new special-education coordinator and is hiring two full-time special-education teachers.

“We knew there were areas for growth,” Schulz wrote in an
e-mail. “We want to get this right — we have an accelerated and challenging curriculum, and we want all learners to have every opportunity to succeed at BASIS.”

BASIS DC won approval to open its doors in 2012, despite questions about whether its model would work for struggling District students. At BASIS schools, middle-school classes are accelerated and students must take and pass a heavy load of Advanced Placement courses to graduate from high school.

BASIS DC opened in Penn Quarter last fall with 443 students, according to an October enrollment audit. By April, nearly 10 percent of the students had withdrawn, including seven of 23 special-education students.

The charter board in April denied the school’s request to expand enrollment in 2013-14, citing concerns about the attrition.

One of the students who departed was Joshua Baskey, a sixth-grader who was failing when he withdrew in December. His mother, Nasima Hossain, said school officials did not provide the academic help required in his IEP — a legally binding document that describes the services a child with a disability must receive.

Hossain said school officials indicated that her son should just work harder.

“They just weren’t dealing with him or helping him at all,” Hossain said. “It was all about the kid fitting their model rather than how can we help this kid excel.”

Students who transfer out of a school midyear do not count toward that school’s standardized test scores. BASIS DC posted some of the city’s highest math and reading scores, according to results released last week, with 81 percent of students proficient in reading and 77 percent proficient in math.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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