Despite a flurry of questions, a new state program whereby courses will be offered online and by other novel methods could benefit Louisiana’s 82,000 special-education students, education officials said.
State education leaders last week asked special-education advocates to encourage teachers and others to apply to offer classes for those students through nontraditional means.
“We have expertise that is untapped,” said Kristina Braud, education program consultant with the state Department of Education.
The issue surfaced during a meeting of the Special Education Advisory Panel, which includes parents of and individuals with disabilities, administrators and education service providers.
The panel advises the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and serves as a liaison between parents of children with special needs and the state Department of Education.
A state law enacted earlier this year will allow private firms, colleges and online groups to offer courses outside of traditional classrooms.
Part of the aim is to enhance college and career readiness.
The classes also are supposed to help students catch up with their peers.
Others are aimed at offering courses, such as Algebra I, using methods that click with students more than a traditional classroom setting.
A total of 34 applications were filed by last week, mostly by companies seeking the authority.
The deadline is Oct. 12.
The classes — they are called course choice — are set to begin during the 2013-14 school year.
Dave Lefkowith, deputy superintendent, told the group that course choice could be a “wonderful program” for students with individual education programs, which are carried by all special education students.
IEPs are written plans crafted by parents and educators on how special needs students will be educated, including goals, services the students will receive, how behavior issues will be dealt with and any special accommodations.
Louisiana’s special education population makes up 12 percent of public school enrollment.
It includes students with autism, hearing, speech and behavior problems, among others.
Officials have emphasized that those who want to offer the classes face a rigorous review by state educators, independent experts and Louisiana’s top school board before they will be allowed to offer classes.
But Lefkowith told the panel that, if they know of someone who can teach courses to an underserved population, “we will nurture them.”
The list of applicants so far includes The Princeton Review, Sylvan Learning and the Florida Virtual School.
What Lefkowith and others hope for are applications from “entrepreneurs” — talented individuals who have a passion and talent for skills that could be customized for special education students.
However, those applicants also have to prepare budgets, decide how to offer the classes, figure out the costs of textbooks and other materials, enter into legal agreements and market the courses — daunting tasks for many educators.
Under the law, students attending public schools rated C, D or F — 54 percent of the state’s public school enrollment — can take the classes without charge.
Those courses would apply to the students’ public school requirements, just as classes that are taught in traditional classrooms.
However, changing the way special-education students may take some classes also sparked a wide array of questions.
How can students be assured of services when some are already unavailable in public schools?
Will private firms authorized to teach the classes be required to provide students with special accommodations, as public schools are required to do?
What about any transportation requirements?
Braud said course choice may offer options, such as an online class, that are superior to what special education students grapple with in traditional settings.
“We want to encourage those who have expertise,” she said.