Many parents of handicapped students complain that they are shut out of decisions regarding their children's education, an advisory committee told the Fairfax County School Board last night.
The board's Advisory Committee for Exceptional Children said communication with parents must be improved. The report differed from others of recent years that contained generally laudatory evaluations.
The county's special education program provides classes in regular schools or separate centers for thousands of children with disabilities ranging from hearing loss to emotional problems.
The committee's report comes several months after a federal Education Department investigation of the county's special education program cleared the school system of charges that it does not provide legally required education for handicapped students.
The school system made several changes in procedures as a result of the complaints by a lobby group -- Parents for Compliance -- that triggered the investigation.
The advisory committee, which is appointed by the School Board, said parents must be given information "free of legalistic terminology and educational jargon," and that school officials should confer with parents earlier and more often in developing the individual education plans required by law.
Some improvements have been made, including a community liaison and a new parents handbook, Jamie Ruppman, the committee's immediate past chairman, told the board.
But the report she submitted also cited complaints by parents about defensive school officials, inability to get timely answers to their questions, confusion about student records, staff overload in the preschool program and general lack of knowledge by parents about how special education works.
Mary E. Collier, School Board chairman, told Ruppman that the report "gives us a lot to do, but we thank you for it. Your guidance helps us strengthen our programs."
The committee plans to submit an addition to its report in November dealing with several contentious issues on which it was unable to agree earlier. Among them are procedures for determining eligibility for special education and design of education plans.
Marjorie de Blaay, a founder of the Parents for Compliance group who also is a member of the advisory committee, said the report "is a step in the right direction in identifying problem areas, but it doesn't go far enough." She said her lobbying group hopes the committee's addendum in November will answer the group's concerns.
In other business, the School Board approved an agreement with the county Board of Supervisors to buy four temporary classrooms and build 32 over four years for the popular before- and after-school day care program.