Students of color in the Davenport Community School District are "just treated differently," a state adviser said Wednesday. And fixing that, and other problems with general and special education in the district, will sometimes require returning to "Special Education 101."
Sandy Schmitz, the implementation adviser assigned to Davenport schools by the state Department of Education, updated the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency board Wednesday about the district's progress after a state audit found it to be in “systemic non-compliance” with federal laws governing the education of students with disabilities, and that students of color were placed in special education at a disproportionate rate.
AEA provides educational services, including special education consulting and teacher training to Davenport and other area school districts, and is providing assistance in this effort.
The district's schools are not consistent, Schmitz told the board.
“You’ll see a common theme of behavior around many of these different (state) citations,” she said. She said the state determined most of the individual education plans for special education students, called IEPs, that were created around student behavior are inadequate.
When a child is removed from a class because of behavior issues, that is reported and recorded.
But “some of these behaviors are part of (the students') culture,” Schmitz said. “Students of color, primarily students who are African-American, are removed more from the general-education classes due to their behavior, or identified for special education more …. There is data to suggest that they’re just treated differently in several areas.”
And consistency is lacking.
“Principals have been given a great amount of latitude as to what happens within their buildings. Each building is kind of doing their own thing," she said.
Also, students have been placed into special-education programs or services based on how the district defines a service rather than a student’s needs, she said.
“The whole foundation of special education is that each child is looked at as an individual; then, the realm of possibilities as far as programming is looked at to see which one will best serve the needs of that particular individual student,” she said. But the district "put some parameters" on those possibilities.
“That is not acceptable,” so these students are being re-evaluated to determine appropriate placement, Schmitz said.
IEPs are being reviewed to determine if students need compensatory education, should remain in special education or can return to general education.
There also is ongoing retraining, she said.
“We’re doing professional development across the district,” Schmitz said. “In some cases ... we’re having to go back to Special Education 101” to emphasize individual assessment of each child.
To conduct the IEP reviews, AEA has hired three retirees and contracted with five other people, said Kim Hofmann, special-education administrator for the AEA.
“We’ve engaged all staff within the agency to support Davenport staff,” Hofmann said.
The ongoing work with Davenport is a partnership, added William Decker, AEA's chief administrator. "It's not us versus them."
In other action, the AEA board briefly discussed student mental-health issues, which are a current topic among educators.
The community can share personal experiences about children’s mental health services during a listening post at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the agency, 279 21st St., Bettendorf.
Listening posts are being hosted across Iowa on behalf of the Children’s System State Board established by Gov. Kim Reynolds. Using information gathered at the events, the board will develop a strategic plan to help children with mental health issues. This report is due to the legislature on Nov. 15.