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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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By Bill Turque  |  January 12, 2010; 8:42 PM ET
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Maybe DCPS is doing what Loudoun County did:
It appears that the Loudoun County (VA) school board authorized "the expenditure of $1.7 federal economic stimulus funds designated for improving special education programs to install interactive whiteboards in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms throughout the county!" An assistant superintendent for the school district said that the school system had already used part of the money to hire all necessary special education teachers and assistants needed for FY10, and was using the money this way so it wouldn't revert to the federal government.

Posted by: edlharris | January 13, 2010 12:39 AM | Report abuse

You also forget that it is often not in the district's best interests to find one of these students. Honestly, with some of the special needs that some students have, you really are spending $200,000 per student. If you don't follow up on 50 kids whose parents don't care, that's $10 million saved.

Given that reality, why would you expect DCPS to go looking for the kids if the parents (or guardians) cannot be bothered to bring them to school?

I'm not saying this is right, it clearly violates the law and the principles of education that the school district is supposed to uphold. However, if faced with spending time and energy looking for these kids, vs. spending a lot of money on them, it is clear where the incentives lie.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | January 13, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Wrym1 - Agreed - and there's also the issue of DCPS lying about what they're doing, I mean misrepresenting the facts.

Bill Turque - As happy as I am to see you have your own little niche on the website, I hope this doesn't mean that important education stories like this one are not considered to be print-worthy and will be relegated to the online version of the Post that's only read by education junkies.

I'll be checking and I'll be complaining to the ombudsman if that's what is happening.

Posted by: efavorite | January 13, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

"What’s clear, said Burnim, is that DCPS was more committed to making its numbers look better than it was to tracking the students."

Bingo!!! This is how Rhee approaches all of her decisions with DCPS. It is all spin and I can say that from firsthand experience. With the new computer tracking system that special education has, all that downtown is pushing is for schools to get the information in the computer. This way they can print out reports that show that they are working miracles when it is all smoke and mirrors. Ensuring that services are appropriately provided is secondary.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | January 13, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Very good point efavorite! I share your concern that by creating this little niche, the Post is effectively burying the controversy and dysfunction of DCPS even deeper. This seems contrary to good journalism, not to mention freedom of the well as the whole issue of bringing to the public's attention the real state of our public school system in DC - but children don't really seem to be a high priority to the Post - on any level...

Posted by: highquality4kids | January 13, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Rhee's spokesperson: " 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 response."

Nyankori:"I don't want the impression out there that somehow we have lost track of kids," and "didn't merely vanish into thin air"

So I guess that means the conversations at 825 are going something like this: Put something together to impress the judge. Make the numbers jive. Perhaps we can get over again like we did when we sent over the fake budget that the CFO signed. Just make it look good. The truth is not important. Just put them on hold with everything, enrollment, special ed, whatever! This is an election year. We just have to look good. We can't impress them with brilliance so dazzle them with BS.

Posted by: candycane1 | January 13, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Regarding Mrs. Rhee and her spin,
she's promoting some Urban Education Redesign Challenge:

Unfortunately, that challenge is NOT trying to take over the job of the filthyteaching blogger, who just resigned:

Posted by: edlharris | January 13, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

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