Despite a substantial reduction in the suspension rate of special education students at many of its schools, the East Baton Rouge Parish public school system will have to make even more progress this year if it hopes to finally free itself from expensive state supervision.
That need for yet more progress is outlined in the school system’s latest “corrective action plan,” approved by the state Department of Education in August. East Baton Rouge Parish has been in some level of “corrective action” with the state since 2003.
Diane Atkins, associate superintendent for instructional support services for the school system, said the revised plan lists 23 schools where suspensions remain too high for the state. The plan directs the parish to lower suspension rates substantially for special education students, though the plan does not offer specific targets, called “exit criteria.”
Twelve of the 23 schools are getting “intensive” scrutiny during the 2012-13 school year, while the remaining 11 are getting a lesser “targeted” level of scrutiny, Atkins said.
The overall goal is to get all public schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system to suspend no more than one out of 10 special ed students during a given school year, which is the state’s average rate of suspension for such children.
Last year, 16 schools suspending special education students at a rate nearly double the state average — more than 19.8 percent — managed to get their suspension rates below that target; nine schools slipped and suspended more than 19.8 percent of their children identified with disabilities, Atkins said.
Suspension and expulsion rates declined by 25.9 percent overall during the 2011-12 school year, meaning almost 2,700 special education students were removed from class, compared to almost 3,600 in 2010-11.
School leaders were hoping that the improvement might be enough to finally escape corrective again, but it wasn’t.
In August, the School Board rehired Robert March, a Colorado-based consultant. The school system was compelled by the state to hire March and a team of consultants two years ago after years of failing to comply fully with federal special education law. That law, known as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, places strict limits on discipline for special education students.
The consultants are monitoring not just discipline practices, but also the quality of students’ individual education plans, or IEPs, and the quality of data the school system collects. For instance, a key goal this year is to ensure that random checks show that at least 80 percent of IEPS are proper.
The school system is paying March up to $216,000 this year as part of his renewed contract, money being deducted from federal IDEA funds.
Educational consultants Tony Doggett and Dale Bailey, both based in Mississippi, gave the parish School Board an update on the school system’s progress in getting out of the state’s corrective action category Thursday night. March was out of town Thursday.
Bailey said the end is in sight.
“Even though we love the city and we love to come here, it’s time for us to start moving away,” he said.
Bailey said the consultants, the state and the school system are meeting this week to finalize what the specific “exit criteria” will be. He said his team will be looking to see consistent practices across schools in terms of what kinds of offenses lead to children going to time-out rooms, as well as whether consistent data-keeping practices are in place.
Bailey said that when it was revised in August, the corrective action plan “was cut in half in terms of what needs to be achieved.”
“The hope is that by year’s end, the majority of these goals will be achieved,” Bailey said. “That’s the hope. I can’t promise. But I can promise you this: This district and this staff are committed to making that happen.”