IM this article to a friend!

June 5, 2004

Special-ed problems improving, officials say

From: Jackson Clarion Ledger, MS - jun 5, 2004

"Advised" school districts claim progress

By Cathy Hayden

Two school districts battling problems with their special education programs say they have gotten many of them resolved.

Claiborne County and Amite County school districts are on "advised" status and are monitored closely by state Department of Education special education officials. If problems aren't cleared within a few weeks, both districts could go on "probation" and be eventually taken over by the state.

But local school officials say they are committed to making sure children get the services they deserve.

"I knew that was something that needed to be corrected," said Annie Kilcrease, who became Claiborne County superintendent in January after November elections.

The problem was simply lack of follow-through with school district personnel, she said.

The district has been without a special education program developer since April.

Since then, Kilcrease said she has made sure a six-member district screening team is evaluating students.

Clara Wells of Port Gibson said she has been trying for two years to get a tutor and a headset for her hearing-impaired son, who will be in fourth grade this fall. She was finally able to get both a few weeks ago, and her son has learned to read.

"It was the changes they made. It helped," she said. "Dr. Kilcrease was very instrumental in working with me."

Wells said she was told before to put him in special education classes instead of getting the help so he could stay in regular classes. "I would not allow that because I didn't feel he belonged there. He just needed that extra help in tutoring and that head device," Wells said.

She said that help along with a caring teacher meant he aced end-of-the year tests.

Of the 82 Claiborne County students who had been referred for special education testing but whose files were inactive, Kilcrease says 78 have now been evaluated with 35 of them being recommended for special education classes.

Four of the children have not yet been evaluated because their parents have not yet signed releases.

Forty-three children were not ruled special education, but will receive special help. "The others returned to the regular classrooms with additional interventions. We will follow it up with transitional skills during the regular school year to make sure they get the support they need in the regular education classrooms," she said.

Many of the those students started a five-week summer school program Tuesday. "They will get summer services," Kilcrease said.

Department of Education officials also said that 58 students had not been getting speech-language services.

They were supposed to get 30 minutes twice a week, Kilcrease said. "It was an internal problem with the program developer and the teacher. It just wasn't happening like it was supposed to," she said.

Before school was out, the district had been making up the time with five-times-a-week sessions for those students and they also will get sessions during the summer. The sessions will be made up continuing into the fall until the students get the time they are entitled to, she said.

In Amite County, Michael McInnis, director of special services since last fall, said none of the 120 children needing special education service went without help. But in some cases they were not getting all they were entitled to.

The biggest issue has been what's called "least restrictive environment." That means disabled children have the legal right to be with nondisabled children as much as possible.

For Amite County teachers, lack of training was a huge problem, McInnis said.

The district has brought in several consultants to help teachers learn how to integrate disabled students with nondisabled students.

"We've redone the schedule. We've implemented a reading program at Liberty Elementary where students with disabilities take reading with nondisabled peers," he said. "The parents I've talked to have been extremely pleased."

Copyright © 2004, The Clarion-Ledger.