School district laboring to fix Special Services | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | August 25, 2016 5:00 pm
Last Updated: August 24, 2016 at 1:10 pm
By GEORGE SALSBERRY
Colleton County School District officials express certainty that the problems in the Special Service Department can be corrected well before the deadline set by the South Carolina Department of Education.
Last spring, monitors from the state department took a long look at the Special Services Department to evaluate its operations.
That examination resulted in an eight-page audit delivered to the school district on April 29.
A report commended the district for ensuring parents were invited to and/or participated in the Individualized Education Program and implementing positive behavioral programs, before expressing concern about how the department handled its paperwork and the apparent lack of communication.
The problems identified in the audit are systemic, school officials said.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Judith White said one of the first things she did when she was hired as an assistant superintendent with the school district was to look at the operation of the Special Services Department.
It was an area she was familiar with, because she spent 10 years heading the Orangeburg School Systems Special Services Department.
According to White, the school district already started addressing some of the problems prior to the release of the state audit.
Part of the problem, according to White, was that “the state did not do a good job statewide of monitoring school districts. I was a special education director for almost 10 years in Orangeburg, and I did not get monitored until 2011, well into my sixth year.”
When she looked at Colleton County, White added, she found that “they had not been in this county for over 10 years.”
That lack of special education oversight on the state level was one of the reasons the federal government “slapped the hand” of the South Carolina Education Department, Superintendent of Education Dr. Franklin Foster said.
White said, “In 2014, the state department of education said they were changing the entire state system. There were some glitches in the system that had school districts balking at implementing the changes.”
They then told the school districts in March of 2014 that they did have a choice: the changes would have to be in place by August of that year.
“Because of the timeline, school officials apparently made the decision to continue with what they were familiar with at the time,” White said.
White said Orangeburg School District was in the second round of implementation. “I had plenty of time to implement the program.”
Colleton County School District, she explained, was in the last batch of school districts to receive the new system.
Colleton County did not get it until July and were supposed to have it implemented within a month.
“What happens sometimes is when you create the forms on your own, you sometimes can lose track of what is required for compliance,” White said.
In addition to not keeping up to date with the federal reporting requirements, Colleton County’s problem was compounded by the fact that “some teams decided they wanted to use their own forms,” said Dr. Jacinta Bryant, who was hired by the school district in early July to head the Special Services Department. Dr. Bryant came to Colleton County from the Charleston County School District where she worked in special services.
Her main goal has been to fix the problems.
Dr. Bryant was hired after Kim Bryant relinquished her role as director of the department about the same time the audit was released.
According to Foster, Kim Bryant asked to be assigned to a different position within the school district. She remains in the Special Services Department in a different role.
“There was a disconnect within the department,” Dr. Bryant said. “We have to make sure we have a clear process in place, that everyone is using the consistent language and forms.”
Foster said, “Basically, we are telling the staff that forms they made up on their own are no longer allowed. We are using enriched software exclusively.”
The state audit also found that the Colleton County Special Education Department “did not have a clarification of responsibilities of roles in the IED process. No one had a clear understanding of their roles,” White said. “We had to go back and train all of our staff members, make sure they were all following through with their roles and responsibilities.”
Bryant said written policy has been created that outlines roles and responsibilities in special education.
White said, “We are working collaboratively on this. It is a huge undertaking.”
As part of the examination of the Special Services Department, the monitors randomly chose 54 Individualized Education Program (IEP) files to examine. They found that approximately half those files were deficient. The school district was given until Dec. 16 to address those deficiencies and return the corrected files to the S.C. Department of Education for another review.
White explained that once those files have been reviewed and approved, the state department will ask for another subset of folders to examine.
If deficiencies are found in those folders, they will be returned to the school district to be corrected.
White explained that the school district will review the IEP files for each of the 1,000 handicapped students within the school district.
White said the district “will look at all files to make sure that we systematically address the concerns. We are not doing a one-time fix to get out from under the state department.”
The review and changes to all the IEP files and all the other corrective measures have to be accomplished within one year of the date of the audit.
“We have to show that we have made systemic changes,” White said. The goal of the school district is to receive a S.C. Department of Education letter stating that the district is free of all findings.
Bryant said she believes the school district will meet the deadlines. “I feel as a team, and with our partnership with our schools, we are right on course.”
“Under Dr. Bryant’s leadership, we have restructured the department so that we can provide more support to the schools,” Foster said. “We feel that we have everybody in the best possible position, where they can be the most effective.”
White said to correct the deficiencies in the IEP files and the other problems outlined by the state report “we began our professional development on July 27.”
According to White, school district officials have talked with the monitors who actually made the visit that resulted in the audit, and members of the state’s department of education have been a part of the training.
“We are working closely with our administrators, our staff and with the teachers,” White said.
Part of that work has included training on the federal government’s special education law conducted by the school district’s attorney, Bert Duffie.