Sad article in the newspaper yesterday coming out of Columbus. Although this is referencing schools in Ohio, I am reading more and more of this across the country and many of your blogs.
State blamed in special-ed lapses
Wednesday, April 7, 2010 2:52 AM
By Jennifer Smith Richards
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Serious problems with some school districts' special-education programs have gone unnoticed because of weak state oversight, a new federal audit says.
The U.S. Department of Education visited in October to test how well the state Department of Education keeps tabs on schools' special-needs practices. Federal reviewers found that some of the school districts they spot-checked were blatantly violating the law and failing to properly educate disabled students.
The results of the audit, Ohio's first regularly scheduled review since 2005, were made public in late March.
"Most of the findings that are in Ohio's report are centered around the state's system of general supervision," said Jim Bradshaw, spokesman for the federal Education Department.
The audit found 11 areas of noncompliance. Bradshaw said it's not unusual for a state to miss the mark in so many areas because the legal requirements of special education are so vast. States are reviewed every few years.
Auditors credited the Ohio Department of Education for helping districts better serve disabled students and offering adequate training and assistance. Most of the state's deficiencies were specific to its ability to determine whether districts were shortchanging disabled students.
The federal Office of Special Education Programs discovered that one Ohio school district has assigned all of its disabled middle-school students to special classrooms away from their nondisabled peers. Even students with mild disabilities who should be in regular-education classrooms are being segregated.
Another district allows teachers to limit the number of disabled students admitted to their classrooms. Teachers accept as many as three or four disabled students in their rooms and send others to segregated classrooms.
The review does not name the districts. The Ohio department says it is waiting to learn their names from federal officials.
The federal special-education office ordered Ohio to report in either 60 or 90 days, based on the infraction, how it plans to fix the problems. Some changes already have been made.
"We didn't view this as 'you're doing very badly,'" said Kathe Shelby, director of Ohio's Office for Exceptional Children. "We viewed it as an opportunity to understand how we should be doing some things. They pointed out some things we need to improve on. We started doing that immediately after they left."
About 15 percent of Ohio's students - roughly 265,000 - are disabled.
The state Education Department monitors districts in part by using data that schools collect and report. But it does not check to see whether the data are accurate, the report says. In the recent past, when the state has made visits to districts, it has checked individual student records and their federally required education plans. But that didn't show whether the records reflect actual practice.
This school year, the state has visited 40 districts, Shelby said. The visits now include opportunities for parents to voice concerns, including a public hearing.
The federal review also found that Ohio doesn't adequately track schools' special-education spending, nor does it ensure that districts are including eligible disabled students in regular-education classes.
That last finding is particularly troubling, said Laura Kaloi, public-policy director for the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
"We know that the majority of students with disabilities do not have cognitive disabilities. They should be learning along with their peers," Kaloi said.
Shelby said the state will quickly fix the weaknesses that haven't been corrected. District special-education directors will be trained on the latter "so kids aren't just dumped" into segregated programs, she said.