ODE orders more for special education

DALLAS — The Oregon Department of Education has ordered the Dallas School District to provide “compensatory education” to three students, conduct a special education policy review, and provide additional training following the conclusion of four investigations.

ODE received the special education complaint investigation requests on Feb. 27 involving a kindergartener, a fifth-grader and a high-school student. ODE’s investigator issued the findings on June 4.

While the state’s order confirm most of the allegations against the district, it did not substantiate the complaints’ assertion that ODE failed to support school district in providing special education.

The complaints alleged that ODE did not provide adequate supervision and monitoring to ensure students in special education received proper services and that ODE hasn’t provided enough support and resources to rural districts to serve students qualified for special education. The complaint asked ODE to provide more specialists to consult districts on special education needs.

ODE deemed those allegations unsubstantiated, saying “the department timely and completely fulfilled its monitoring and supervision responsibilities with respect to the district. Also, there is no indication that the department does not distribute funding to the district in compliance with the law in the same manner it does all school districts in the state.”

All complaints involve three students who were placed on an abbreviated schedule and allege that parents weren’t given proper opportunity to be part of that decision.

In 2017, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 263, which restricted the circumstances under which students could be placed on a shortened day.

State law now requires students be placed on shortened schedule under these circumstances: If the a student’s individualized education program team determines it’s required based on the student’s needs; after the parent(s) have had an opportunity to meaningfully participate in a meeting to discuss the placement; after showing proof that the IEP team considered at least one other option that include appropriate support to allow a student to participate in a full day; and after the IEP team documents the reasons why the abbreviated day is needed.

ODE sent districts new guidelines for placing students on an abbreviated day in October 2017 for staff training.

According to the reports, Dallas had 26 students eligible for special education on an abbreviated schedule. Of those, seven students are on a shortened day for medical reasons; three because they receive specialized therapy outside the school setting; five are older than 18 and work outside the school setting; and 11 are on a shortened day for behavioral reasons. The three student involved in the investigations were on shortened day because of behavior issues, which ranged from screaming and using profanity to hitting or otherwise attacking staff and other students, according to the investigation reports.

The state found that in these three cases, the district failed in at least one instance to adequately include parents in the decision-making process. It also substantiates claims that the district didn’t give enough consideration to options that didn’t involve shortened days.

Galbraith said in one case, the shortened day was to protect other students. She said the student’s day was abbreviated by 15 minutes on each end of the day, so he could ride the bus by himself. She said his behavior on the bus to and from school was so aggressive that he was considered a danger to other students.

ODE’s investigator said that may have been the right decision, but the process was flawed.

“Indeed, the district may have implemented appropriate changes to the student’s educational program to address significant behavior needs,” ODE’s final order read. “But it did so without providing the parent with a written (prior written notice), which is critical in these circumstances.”

The order said the district made the decision to change his transportation schedule on Nov. 1, but didn’t inform the parent until the next day and didn’t schedule a meeting to address the change with the parent until Nov. 14, a meeting which the parent didn’t attend. The parent signed a notification and acknowledgment form on Nov. 3.

The order substantiated similar concerns about the decision to place the student in a “behavioral intervention program special school.” ODE said the district convened an IEP meeting on Feb. 5, when the decision was made on Dec. 12, 2017.

The state required the district to provide corrective actions — ranging from an IEP review to summer school — for each of the students.

District officials say that decisions to place students on shortened schedules are not taken lightly, and that it can be an effective tool for some who struggles attending school for 6.5 hours per day.

Superintendent Michelle Johnstone said the goal of an abbreviated schedule is to build a student up to attending full time.

“For some kids, it’s really, really challenging to try to keep themselves together for the full day, but if we can do it in smaller increments and then get them up to the full day, then we have a tool in our tool kit that is actually very successful,” Johnstone said.

The kindergartener was moved from attending one hour per day to two hours and 15 mimutes during the complaint period, which was between February 2017 to February 2018. The fifth grader attended five hours per day, and then was moved to a behavior intervention program full time. The high school student’s day was reduced to three hours and increase incrementally throughout the year, but not to a full day.

Autymn Galbraith, Dallas’ special education director, said often accompanying a shortened schedule is tutoring in the home environment. The district tried tutoring for the kindergarten student, but it wasn’t successful, according to the investigation report. Instead of continuing tutoring in the home, the district add an hour to the student’s day at school. Galbraith said the high school student’s family declined tutoring and the fifth grader was placed in a different school full time.

She said working on academics at home can be more effective because it is more familiar and doesn’t have the same stresses as the school setting for some students.

“At school, those students can learn to develop social skills they need to be successful at school, eventually for a full day,” she said.

She added that students with severe behavioral issues can be disruptive to the education of other students, especially when classrooms are cleared for safety reasons.

Johnstone said placing a student on an abbreviated schedule is never the district’s first choice.

“The first line is teachers in the classroom really trying to figure out how to meet the needs of all the kids and make accommodations so they can get through the day,” Johnstone said. “When classroom teachers get stuck, they then have a resource team to go to.”

The next steps are interventions, and referral for special education is necessary.

A fourth final order issued by the state in this case ordered the district to review, and revise where necessary, its special education policies; conduct training based on investigation findings in conjunction with ODE between October 2018 and April 2019; and allow ODE to conduct a review files of all students placed on abbreviated days. Based on the outcome of the review, ODE may order the district to provide compensatory education to other students.

Johnstone said the district wants feedback from the community on its special education programs.

On Aug. 11, parents with concerns are invited to speak with district officials at the DSD board room, 111 SW Ash St., from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. The district will have a booth at the back-to-school event Dallas Family Night Out at Dallas United Methodist Church, 565 LaCreole Drive, from 4 to 8 p.m. to offer a second chance for community feedback.

In September, a new Superintendent Special Education Advisory Committee will begin meeting to address concerns raised at the Aug. 11 forum and Dallas Family Night Out. Johnstone said more members are needed for the committee.

For more information or to volunteer for the committee: michelle.johnstone@dsd2.org.

Next week, read about how special education is funded at the state and federal level.

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