Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Fenty, Rhee, Gist Stress Continuing Commitment to Creating High-Quality Special Education Programs

Below is the latest statement from Chancellor Rhee, Mayor Fenty and State Superintendent Rhee on the state of DCPS.
Fenty, Rhee, Gist Stress Continuing Commitment to Creating High-Quality Special Education Programs

Washington, DC – Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and State Superintendent of Education Deborah Gist today reaffirmed their commitment to provide high-quality education and services to all special education students in the District.

"For decades District schools have maintained separate and unequal treatment of our students with special needs. History has shown us numerous examples where separate is inherently unequal," said Fenty. "Chancellor Rhee will implement a plan that ensures that local schools will be the best possible environment to serve students with disabilities."

Pilot Programs in Neighborhood Schools
DCPS has launched two types of pilot programs throughout the District to create a welcoming environment for special education students in neighborhood schools. These programs were designed and/or approved with full support of the plaintiffs in the Blackman Jones special education lawsuit.

At the elementary level the School-wide Applications Model (SAM) has been implemented in eight schools this year. In other school districts where SAM has been implemented over three years, the schools have shown significant gains in test scores and parental involvement. Moreover, students learn together with other students, despite their personal challenges.

At the middle school level eight Full Service Schools (FSS) have been created to serve all students by focusing on rigorous academics and intensive wellness supports. Full Service Schools focus on keeping kids in school, ensuring they are exposed to high-quality instruction, and providing intensive supports—such as wrap-around services to meet complex student needs.

"Education reform in DCPS will not be complete until we fully address the need for all students to attend a school that sustains a caring, inclusive and supportive environment," said Rhee. "It is no longer acceptable for students with disabilities to be the exception to the rule; we have a responsibility to serve every child and to make sure they have the proper tools to succeed."

DCPS also has well established programs to deliver high-quality services to special education students. Sharpe Health, a school for medically fragile students, recently demonstrated 95% achievement on the DC-CAS Alt assessment. Mamie D. Lee also experienced similar results. Both schools were the recipients of DCPS TEAM Awards giving thousands of dollars to the principals and staffs of these schools for their accomplishments.

Improving Special Education Operations
The Office of Special Education (OSE) at DCPS is in the process of a major restructuring with the goal of an efficient, friendly, and accountable office. OSE will focus on increasing the NCLB annual yearly progress for the special education subgroup. The office will continue to increase principals’ investment in their special education programs by allowing principals greater control in staffing for special education teachers, related service providers, and budgets.

OSE and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) will partner to increase efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness by digitizing processes and reducing paperwork, allowing staff to increase the amount of time spent working with students and families.

In addition, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is moving aggressively to ensure charter school compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Act, with a special emphasis on timely evaluation of students with suspected disabilities and timely implementation of all hearing officer decisions. The OSSE has also provided guidance to charter schools to ensure that the student admission process does not discriminate against students with disabilities. The OSSE will continue to monitor charter schools to ensure compliance and provide technical assistance to schools to assist them with improving services for students.

"Of all the critical responsibilities we have, serving children with special needs is one of our highest priorities," said Gist. "We've made significant progress this year, and while we have a long way to go, we have a plan of action. We've set high expectations for how our system will serve students with disabilities and are moving aggressively to support high quality programs in our schools."

Court Case Progress
The District has made great strides in meeting the commitments set forth in its Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement (ADR) with the plaintiffs in Blackman Jones. For the first time, the District has full-time case managers, a special education parent resource center managed by Advocates for Justice and Education Inc., a new special education data system, and more staff committed to implementing hearing officer decisions. DCPS recently hired 30 full-time staff to meet its consent decree commitments in Blackman Jones.

Tomorrow, the District will provide the Court in the Petties case with a status report on its efforts to improve transportation of special education students and the billing and payment of providers. The District plans to transition the bill payment process from DCPS to OSSE and hopes to win the approval of the Transportation Administrator to transition transportation of special education students from DCPS to OSSE.

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