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Special Ed Mess Far From Solved

It's no secret that special education is a major financial and legal morass in the District. The school advocacy group D.C. VOICE and a report coming out of a federal court hearing offer some insight into the ongoing challenges in special education.

This morning at the John A. Wilson building, D.C. VOICE will release a study on how prepared elementary and middle schools were on the first day of school to meet the needs of special ed students. "Our findings show how important it is to have staffing in place at the beginning of school because the needs of special ed students are so particularly important," said Erika Landberg, program director for D.C. VOICE.

Yesterday, a consultant appointed to monitor special education reforms told a federal judge that the D.C. school system will be unable to comply with terms of a court order to dramatically improve services to special needs students by June -- but is making incremental progress in improving services.

In the 2006 consent decree, the school system agreed to reduce by 65 percent this June a huge backlog of decisions from hearing officers regarding the timely placement of students in special education programs. But Rebecca Klemm of the District-based Klemm Analysis Group told U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman that the system currently is implementing only 29 percent of the decisions and will not meet the goal by June.

"I have a goal of 50 percent by the end of June," Klemm said. "It's not 65, but it's better than 29."

The consent decree, stemming from the Blackman v. District of Columbia case, settled a class-action lawsuit filed by parents of special education students protesting the system's long delay in following through with services for their children.

Friedman expressed disappointment that the goals of the consent decree would not be met but said he would not impose severe penalties against the system -- yet. "I think progress is being made and that's good," he said. "It may mean some actions on my part are taken sometime in the future."

(Do you have a student in Special Education? Tell us about your experience.)

Dion Haynes

By Dion Haynes  |  April 8, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Education  
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