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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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By Bill Turque  |  May 28, 2010; 10:34 AM ET
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What's even rarer is for Turque to write two stories on the same subject on the same day and have the "DCPS Insider" story come out second.

What gives? Is this foreshadowing for a third story on what happens to DCPS execs who publicly apologize?

Is this not really an apology but a harbinger of something really horrid?

Posted by: efavorite | May 28, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

This was an apology to a relative few people who already have their children in out of system placements. This was not an apology for the abysmal job DCPS does for the bulk of special education students on a daily basis. I don’t think this apology is a big deal. It’s just a response to the hostile parental response, and the fact that what DCPS did was actionable by those parents. What you get a glimpse of here is standard operating procedure for DCPS with respect to special needs students. It’s just that they didn’t get to some of the students/families before the IEPs were completed. So, I am interested to know how many of the IEPs that will be completed in the next few weeks will force “re-integration” or deny out of system placement based on political posturing and this “budget balancing”. (At least for this moment, as apparently one can never tell with the DCPS budget). Isn't DCPS supposed to be for "children first"?

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | May 28, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

So, because some notices of curtailed entitlements went out to parents who should not have received them, expenditure on education at a rate in excess of $100,000 per year per child continues without complete rethink?

Posted by: incredulous | May 29, 2010 1:37 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately the cost excesses continue because the rethink would involve actual planning, commitment to educating special needs students, creation of facilities that are accessible and appropriate, and the hiring and retention of trained and qualified staff. In the short run this will cost money, but that reality is lost on the upper echelons of this school system. They are looking for the fast buck to fund unsustainable promises for teacher salaries. The $100,000/student you mention is in bulk going to adults who do not have contact with these students for their educational benefit. There has been an industry established around special education, and DCPS has allowed this industry, by its own inability to educate these children, to take hold in this city. If DCPS would provide the services needed by its special needs students in the first place, there would be no need for litigation and many fewer out of system placements. Too many excuses are being made for these administrators. There is excessive spending because DCPS has not created and maintained a system that works for the students.

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | May 30, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Nyankori was a tremendous help to me and my kid's school when we desperately needed the Chancellor's help to rid the school of some horrible teachers. They came in, leaned on the administration, the offenders were let go, other people on campus were arrested (and convicted!) and I am forever in his debt. The man followed up and followed up and followed up to make sure the job was done.

Posted by: bbcrock | June 1, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

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