Grandview School District must offer free summer school for special education students

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 7, 2014 

The Grandview School District must provide summer school for free for up to 50 special education middle school students who didn't receive enough individual instruction last school year.

A new report from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction said the district also failed to properly evaluate students and notify parents of their progress.

Along with offering summer classes, the district must hire a consultant to audit its special education services.

"We thought we did the right thing but OSPI doesn't think we did the right thing," said Superintendent Kevin Chase.

District officials have notified parents of the affected students and offered them the chance to sign up for the summer classes, which will cost the district about $21,500.

As many as five teachers could be needed, but students are not obligated to participate and have weeks to notify the district.

The district also has submitted to the state a preliminary list of consultants it may hire to conduct the audit of its special ed services. It's unclear what the audit could end up costing the district.

The Grandview Education Association, the district's teachers union, filed a complaint with the state in October about special ed services at the middle school, said union President Jamie Downing.

Teachers and a psychologist at the school came to the union with their concerns, and the union met with district administrators but nothing changed, she said.

The issues stem from the placement of special education students in regular classrooms. Many of the students were supposed to be monitored by special education teachers during those classes as part of a "push-in" model.

But students weren't benefiting, state officials said, and student education plans were altered to fit the strategy, in many cases reducing the amount of attention students were getting in math or language arts.

Chase said they will not appeal the state decision. He said the district was "on the edge" in its approach to special education.

He said the district is trying to give special education students the extra help they need while also teaching them to the same standards all students are ultimately tested on.

"It was a good attempt on our part to improve how these students were performing," he said.

Despite their unique needs, special education students must still meet state standards along with the rest of their classmates, he said. Keeping them in separate classrooms and away from standard instruction in math and language arts puts their ability to succeed at risk.

"They don't have the opportunity to be taught to the standards they need to know to pass the (standardized) tests," Chase said.

However, the school's psychologist told teachers and administrators in an October 2012 email that he had concerns the approach wasn't working. Another email in January 2013 indicated the district's efforts had failed.

"As a result of problems with the "push-in" service delivery model, approximately 11 to 12 students did not receive math services for the first three to four months of school and approximately eight to nine students had not received any reading services during the year," the state report said.

Individual student plans were amended, in some cases leaving a student with a fraction of the special services they had before. Parents were frequently not involved in those changes, state officials said, nor were they being fully informed of their child's academic status.

Those students and others had their individual plans changed again last summer. Few of them were re-evaluated in the process and the middle school psychologist told the district's special education director in an email which students would receive more or less extra help before assessing them.

The district continued placing the special education students in regular classes at the beginning of the current school year. But parents complained and teachers and the psychologist said they were concerned about the effectiveness of the strategy.

While the middle school could benefit from having an additional special education teacher, Downing said the district's problems stem from administrators wanting to push special education students into regular classes instead of giving them more individual attention.

"It's been an ongoing battle for the last few years," she said.

Chase agreed the district did not handle implementation of all aspects of the "push-in" model cleanly, noting elementary students moving into middle school often had changes in their individual plans that didn't always follow proper procedures. But the intent was to better prepare students for the rest of their education, he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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