The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) says Central District 104 is not sufficiently mainstreaming its special needs students and it has asked the district to develop a new plan to address the problem.
The ISBE division of special education services conducted a focused monitoring visit to Dist. 104 last November. It also conducted a public forum for parents of children with special needs to discuss placement decisions. The report from that visit targeted educational placement specifically, the amount of time the districts students with special needs spend in a general education classroom as an area in need of improvement.
The federal law that provides schools with funds to educate students with disabilities requires that the state track certain data. So every year the state looks at a variety of data we provide to them, Superintendent Jon Bute noted. And the critical indicator they looked at dealt with the percentage of students with individualized education plans (IEPs) who are served inside the regular classroom for 80 percent or more of the school day.
Bute explained, When we do our IEPs, we determine how many hours a week a student will be in a regular education classroom and how many hours in a special education classroom and the indicator is based on a percentage of those numbers.
He then said, For the 2010-2011 school year, the goal was to have 49.9 percent of students with IEPs educated inside the regular classroom for 80 percent of the school day. We were at 48 percent, so we were pretty close.
In 2011-2012, the state target was 51 percent. We were at 44.1 percent. So the gap was getting larger, he said. Then, last school year (2012-2013), the goal was 52 percent and our rate was 35.4 percent. So that triggered a red flag.
Bute said he received the ISBE report just before Christmas and immediately began meeting with his administrative team to prepare a detailed plan for addressing the issues the report cited. That plan must be submitted to the state by Monday, Feb. 24, so, during its Feb. 10 meeting, the superintendent presented to his school board a proposal for changes to the districts improvement plan intended to address the issues raised during the ISBE site visit.
The key item, he said, was a provision that the district will engage in professional development training for staff to make sure all students are successful in the general education classroom. He noted those professional development sessions will take place later this school year and at the beginning of the next school year.
Bute also said emphasis will be placed on co-teaching, with special education and general education teachers teaming up in the general education setting in an attempt to keep students with IEPs in the general classroom as much as possible.
The board gave its unanimous approval to the changes.
We have a couple of theories as to why the gap grows, said Bute, indicating he thinks the problem relates to difficulties matching the IEPs of special needs students who transfer into the district with services available through the curriculum it provides.
We have about 100 students with IEPs in the district and when the year began last fall about 20 percent of the students from the previous year had left the district and 20 percent were new to us, which is about the average each year. So we had about 22 new students with IEPs and we have seen some differences in the IEPs of kids transferring to us, he said.
Many of those students transferred to us from other states or districts and their IEPs were written based on the services provided by those other districts, which might have been different than what we provide. But when those students come to us we try to meet their needs based on what their IEP says and the programs we offer in the district or through BASSC (the Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative) programs, he said while noting the services are not always compatible.
Unfortunately, we have not been as successful in the states eyes in educating those students in the general education classroom for 80 percent or more of the day, he said.
Our next challenge is to see how we can address that particular segment of our population and try to educate them in the general education setting and provide them the support they need whether that is more teachers in the classroom or some other support the child can utilize to be successful, he said.
And we are focused on what we can do to make sure more students stay in the general education setting and are not pulled out into special classes, he explained. Bute then noted, When the state does a monitoring visit, it is a two year process. And the plan we will provide will be a two-year process. So all of the changes are not due immediately.
We have two years to make sure we provide all the professional development we need for our staff and to make sure we have appropriate accommodations to meet the needs of the students, he said.
Central was one of about 30 districts across the state to have one of ISBEs focused monitoring visits in the fall.