The Davenport School District will work with a national expert on disproportion in special education, among other processes, to resolve issues presented in a report from the Iowa Department of Education.
At a special meeting Tuesday night, the board addressed a state audit of the district's special-education program that found it in “systemic non-compliance” with parts of the federal law that govern education of students with disabilities.
Patti Pace-Tracy, director of special education for the district, reviewed citations from the state and responded to questions from board members during a lengthy meeting attended by parents, teachers and other community members.
Because the report shows a disproportionate number of students of color identified for special education services, the state Department of Education has told the district to work with an adviser. Additionally, the report reflects a disproportionate number of minority special-education students who have been subjected to disciplinary actions such as being suspended or expelled or subject to seclusion or restraints.
The eight areas of non-compliance are:
• Placement decisions for students with disabilities.
• Providing prior written notice to parents.
• Services for students with behavioral needs.
• Removals and suspensions for students with disabilities.
• Evaluation procedures.
• Seclusion and restraint as applied to students with disabilities.
• Permissible special-education expenditures.
About 2,500 district students are on IEPs, Pace-Tracy said.
In regard to racial disparity, board member Linda Hayes asked whether some teachers are uncomfortable with students of color. Superintendent Art Tate replied that some teachers don’t feel comfortable with people of a different race, and that “We have to do better. It’s probably the biggest challenge of our time.”
Tate said that racial disparities for student discipline rates have been documented for decades on a national level.
“If we don’t find a way to help students rise with the tides, we’re all going to sink together,” board member Clyde Mayfield said, drawing applause from the audience.
"I've witnessed this over 40 years," he said. “A lot of our kids, by the time they’re in third grade, we know which ones are going to prison.”
Regarding the issue at a national level, “I think if the fire is in your house, then you should feel the pain a little more,” he said.”Achievement is one of the greatest factors in how kids are going to live the rest of their life.”
“I don’t want us, five years from now, having the same conversation," said William Decker, chief administrator for the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency, who was part of the panel of speakers. "Our collaborative relationship with the district has continued to grow … We’re very anxious to make a difference so it’s not the same conversation.”
Among many other measures, the district must reconvene individualized education plan (IEP) meetings for about 1,600 students, a number that Pace-Tracey said needs to be confirmed with the Department of Education. If students are owed them, the district must provide them compensatory education services.
IEPs are written plans that guide a student's education according to individual needs.
“We will need to reconvene IEP meetings as soon as possible,” Pace-Tracy said. An implementation adviser, who will be on hand next week, will help determine which students should take first priority, she said.
Additionally, the district will work with the area education agency to review student IEPs for students of color. The implementation adviser will work with the district to ensure that all staff understand restraint and confinement regulations, she said.
A group of concerned community members included Kari Dugan, who spoke to a reporter just outside the room where the meeting continued.
“We’re basically getting her version of the audit results,” said Dugan, the parent of a student who was in special education in the district. “I think we’re hearing a lot of talking. We’re not hearing a lot of answers to the actual questions that the board is asking.”
“We are going to bring in some positive change, regardless of whether or not the administration is going to be helpful to us," Dugan continued. "Primarily we need a lot of education for parents about what our rights are and how to get the services you are given by those rights."