Ed Discuss: The Particular Schooling Disaster
Ed Talk is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely those of the author.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is federal law that requires eligible children with disabilities to be provided with free adequate public education (FAPE) and special education and related services for those children. Despite these requirements and assurances, Special Education (SpEd) students in Arlington Public Schools are in crisis. The system that was supposed to support and strengthen them is broken.
Often parents have to wait for their child to fail in order to get the school administration, the Local Education Agency (“LEA”), to refer their child for assessment. There are practically no preventive measures in place. This “wait-to-fail” model leads to considerable collateral damage for the students in academic, psychological, emotional and physical terms. The consequences are borne not only by these students and their families, but also by their teachers and classmates. Everyone is affected – directly or indirectly.
Some assessments that APS conducts to determine if a student has a learning disability are incomplete, out of date, incomplete, or inconsistent with best practice and, as such, are inferior to private assessments. The resulting eligibility statements are therefore inaccurate or inaccurate. This poses a huge equity problem. Parents who can afford a private assessment (average 3K-5K) will get a deeper and more complete view of what is going on with their child and what academic support and accommodation are recommended. Parents who cannot afford this can get everything APS has to offer unless they know they have to request an Independent Education Assessment (IEE) at a public expense. Even then, APS severely limits what reviews and costs are approved, so parents often have to pay the difference if they want more.
How hard a parent has to fight to get a rating, and how much reluctance a parent receives from LEAs, varies greatly from school to school due to the quality of the ratings and the expertise of the school’s psychologist. It is in the truest sense of the word “the luck of the draw”. None of this is standardized or consistent. What is consistent is the utter fear and stress many APS parents endure in trying to hold APS accountable for their legal obligation to provide FAPE.
Once a student has been determined to be eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the “wait-until-failure” model changes to a “continue-until-failure” in order to maintain SpEd services. In many cases, if the student stabilizes or improves with the appropriate support, or appears to be doing well, APS will attempt to remove these supports, on the premise that they are no longer needed. Triennial reassessment meetings mislead some parents into ending their child’s IEP altogether or instead moving to a 504 plan based on the narrative that “special education is not permanent” or that they are congratulated on their child it’s going so well, they don’t need any special training anymore.
If your child is identified as eligible for an IEP, it may be a battle won, but not the war. The next limit is the agreement of destinations, hours, accommodations, or other provisions in the IEP. IEP meetings have a hostile undercurrent, even when everyone in the room is warm. At some point in the student’s K-12 cycle, the IEP process turns into a process of suspicion as there is inevitably a conflict over implementation, partial consent, prior written notices, or anything else that will trigger an IDEA violation.
At this point, parents should be able to rely on the enforcement powers of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) as the state regulator for SpEd. Unfortunately, we can not. The endless compliance cycle can look something like this: One parent files a state complaint against APS because of a certain violation, VDOE determines that APS is not compliant and creates a Corrective Action Plan (CAP). APS completes said plan. In subsequent IEP meetings, APS repeats the same violation with the same or different parents. Subsequent government complaints are filed and VDOE again determines that APS is not compliant and issues another CAP. Rinse, repeat. VDOE does not have escalated consequences for repeated violations, so there is no incentive for APS to maintain compliance.
VDOE has defected from its enforcement throne and has failed to take over a meaningful supervision of SpEd. Our children suffer collateral damage as a result. The General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) published a report (December 2020) which partially concluded that “the VDOE’s handling of complaints against school departments does not ensure that all problems are resolved” and that “ the ongoing monitoring of the VDOE is also “limited.” JLARC made 27 recommendations to the VDOE to remedy its errors.
Previously, the Ministry of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) carried out a monitoring visit by the VDOE on site (which the VDOE ironically did not carry out in many school districts) and issued a final result on June 23, 2020 that “the VDOE has its general Does not perform supervisory and monitoring tasks in order to implement its state complaint settlement system in a manner that complies with all regulatory requirements. “OSEP gave the VDOE 90 days to” establish and implement general monitoring and monitoring procedures and practices that are appropriate to this designed to ensure that LEAs meet the program requirements of IDEA ”.
As a result, in a special legislative session in 2021, the General Assembly issued SB 1288, which both chambers unanimously approved, instructing the VDOE to “develop new guidelines and procedures and make numerous changes to existing guidelines and procedures in order to improve the administration and supervision of special regulations” . Education in the Commonwealth. “
But our SpEd students cannot wait for the state. We have to focus our efforts locally. Attend Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee (ASEAC) meetings; make public comments; join the Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA); Write to the school management and the school principal. We need all hands on deck working for our weakest students. All APS students benefit when their students with disabilities are well served as a rising tide lifts all boats.
Symone Walker is a federal prosecutor and an APS parent. She is a vice chairman of the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee (ASEAC), sits on the Community Advisory Board of the Commonwealth Attorney, and is a member of the Arlington NAACP Executive Committee and co-chair of the NAACP Education Committee. Symone is a past candidate for the Arlington School Board.