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September 26, 2013 at 6:15 AM

Seattle still struggling to improve special education program

EducationAll districts struggle to meet the unique needs of special education students, but the Seattle Public Schools has struggled more profoundly and visibly.

A Times editorial Thursday calls out a Seattle Public Schools misstep, this time shooting past a self-imposed Sept. 20th deadline to comply with state requirements regarding its special education program.

A missed deadline by itself is no big deal. Indeed, it has come to be expected in local government agencies enduring sizeable budget cuts and staff reductions. But taking note of it adds to a baseline of expectations by which the district’s special education efforts should be judged. Also setting up high expectations for the district is this letter by School Boardmember Marty McLaren, published in June.

This Times story reports on efforts by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to force Seattle to restructure its special education program. In a letter to Zakiyyah McWilliams, executive director of Special Education in Seattle since June, state officials pose 25 tough questions with the request for as much detail in the answers as possible.

The questions should help the district frame its vision and work plans. Taken as a whole, they force the district to put meat on the bones of its Comprehensive Correction Action Plan (C0CAP).  State officials are tough but appropriately so. A plan for professional development for teachers is greeted with a request for more specifics about who will be trained and how they will be trained. Expectations for accountability are set out in other questions such as how the district will identify staffers with a history of non-compliant Individual Education Plans. And what training will these staffers receive? The agency also asks for proof of parent and community engagement, including with Seattle’s Special Education PTSA.  The district’s announcement of a “new model – continuum of equitable and predictable services” is met with a request for a copy of the plan and details about its success elsewhere, including in any lessons learned from its previous implementations. Those who pride themselves on asking tough questions of district administrators should appreciate this.

It may seem like someone in Olympia has the district in their cross-hairs but special education students and their parents stand to benefit if heightened scrutiny results in more consistent services, funding and supports for staff and families. Imagine if every service promised on the district’s special education website was honestly and consistently delivered.



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