Special ed kids “missing to the system”
Deputy Chancellor Richard Nyankori assured a federal judge last fall that some of the special education students removed from private schools for placement back in DCPS had not fallen off the grid.
“I don’t want the impression out there that somehow we have lost track of kids,” Nyankori told U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman.
But plaintiffs’ attorneys in the Blackman lawsuit now say that is precisely what has happened, and that Nyankori misled the court. In a report filed with the court late Monday, they say that at least 20 special needs kids once in private schools cannot be accounted for.
“He clearly misrepresented the facts,” said attorney Ira A. Burnim of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.
Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has committed to returning many of the approximately 3,000 special ed students currently in private placements back to DCPS. They ended up in private schools because the city couldn’t meet their needs, and D.C. pays about $200 million a year in tuition and transportation. Rhee believes that many of them can now receive the education they need in DCPS.
Court-appointed monitors reported last fall that, according to school system data, only 18 of the 97 special ed students reevaluated and removed from private schools in the 2008-2009 school year ended up enrolled in public schools. Nyankori said the data was incomplete, and probably did not include enrollment information from private and charter schools because they hadn’t yet reported their information.
A majority of the students were probably enrolled somewhere, he said, and “didn’t merely vanish into thin air.”
But Bazelon Center attorneys investigated and found that some of them did indeed seem to vanish.
Of the 51 students that DCPS reported had “transitioned” from private day schools, 43 had actually been expelled for truancy and only two ever enrolled in a public school. One is now dead. At least a dozen had not attended school for an entire year.
What’s clear, said Burnim, is that DCPS was more committed to making its numbers look better than it was to tracking the students.
“DCPS changed the truant students’ placements to neighborhood public schools regardless of whether the student actually intended to enroll in the school,” the report said. It added that defendants lack current information about 20 of the 43 expelled students.
“They are missing to the system,” the report said, adding that some of the others are incarcerated or reenrolled in other private day schools.
Of the 46 students transferred from residential schools to private day schools (they were found by the District to still need private care, but in a less restrictive environment, as required by law) nine appear to no longer be in school “with no additional information about their whereabouts.”
Burnim said it suggests that the kids placed in private day school weren't ready for a less restrictive environment, but that DCPS "more or less washes their hands of these kids once they send them off to private schools."
D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said Tuesday evening that the report was "absolutely untrue." Nyankori did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment, but Rhee spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway said: “We wholly disagree with the plaintiff’s report. We have conducted a thorough analysis of the situation, and will offer a full report when we file our written response.”
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