Nyankori a rare bird in DCPS wild
It was the bureaucratic equivalent of a Northern Spotted Owl sighting: a District of Columbia official apologizing for mistakes made.
"There have been mistakes. I'm ready to take the whip," Richard Nyankori, deputy chancellor for special education, said Wednesday evening at Randle-Highland Elementary School. And he took his whipping in a cafeteria filled with anxious parents who had been notified--virtually out of the blue, some contended--that the District wanted to end the private school placements they had secured because of the city's inability to meet their children's needs.
The city spends more than $280 million a year on private school tuition and transportation for about 2,700 students, more than a quarter of its total special ed population. Nyankori and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee say that's way too many, and that some of them can have their needs met in less restrictive environments, as federal law requires. But the rollout of their "reintegration plan" ran into trouble when privately-contracted "placement specialists" began notifying private schools and parents of impending transfers, in some cases just weeks after annual reviews of student IEPs (individual education plans) were completed.
Nyankori executed a strategic retreat Wednesday, telling parents who recently had their IEPs renewed to disregard the notices from placement specialists. He stressed that he does not believe in total "inclusion," special education-speak for students with disabilities attending school in mainstream classrooms with extra support. But he does believe that too many children are bundled in an intensive set of supports year after year that will make it difficult for them to live independent adult lives. He also thinks that some schools just aren't very good.
"I'm not going to apologize for kids who are getting a bad bill of goods sold to them because they've had bad attorneys, bad oversight monitors," he told parents, who said reintergration effort would be tweaked and continued.
"We're going to take tighter control of where students are going," he said.
Part of this is personal for Nyankori, who grew up with a mentally disabled brother and began his career has a special education teacher. He also has a doctorate in education policy and planning from the University of Maryland. Toward the end of the evening, he called out his cell phone number to the audience -- although like Rhee and most of his deputies, e-mail is the best way to get in touch.
But he also made clear that while he apologized for the mistakes, he would not be an apologist for reintegration.
"We're going to move past this or we're not," he said.
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