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Schools act quickly to improve special ed

September 16, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - G. Ronald Brown wasn't even working for Berkeley County Schools in early 1997, when a review by West Virginia Department of Education officials turned up a number of policy violations in the special education department.

The report - mandating 26 corrective actions - was on Brown's desk when he started the job as director of special education on July 11, 1997, he said.

It took an intensive, cooperative effort to address the problems, ranging from how long some special education students had to travel to school to the lack of required documentation in a number of student files, Brown said.

With all but two areas of concern rectified as of early September, state education officials say Brown, Schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon and other school officials and employees should be commended for their commitment to fix things as quickly as possible.

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"Everybody has really worked well together with the Department of Education to remove those areas," said Kay Johnston, coordinator of monitoring for the state's special education department.

The school system still has work to do in meeting prescribed time lines for getting students referred to special education tested and into programs, and in relocating special education classrooms to meet requirements, Johnston said.

Because lingering facilities problems stem from growth in the county and a resulting space crunch in its schools, the state isn't holding the school system to a hard and fast deadline on changing classroom arrangements, she said.

But state officials expect the school system to have a written plan addressing the inadequacies and to keep making progress on it, Johnston said.

"We realize they can't build buildings overnight, but we expect them to be correcting any of those areas regarding noncompliance," she said.

State educational policy requires that special education classrooms are comparable to and near classrooms of regular education students of the same age.

State school officials have been good about considering the county's growth-related problems, Brown said.

What could be done to comply has been done, he said. For example, students with behavior disorders at Martinsburg High School were moved from two classrooms that weren't near regular education classrooms to ones that are.

The requirements are being considered in all new construction and renovation projects, Brown said.

A Special Education Assistance Team - consisting of Johnston, seven teachers and a psychologist - was formed to advise Brown and to develop strategies for addressing the various concerns.

Revising the form system for student Individualized Educational Plans - or IEPs - corrected a lot of the problems outlined in the review. Accomplishing that was a lengthy, complicated process, Brown said.

There were 46 different policy violations because of lack of required documentation in student files, according to the report.

Shortening the length of time it took to get some special education students to school was a particular nightmare, since all special education programs aren't available at all schools, he said.

The review found 33 high, middle and elementary school students weren't getting as long an instructional day as their regular education peers.

In many cases, it was just a matter of minutes shorter, and none weren't getting the amount of time required by law, Brown said.

The solution was approached creatively, using tactics like delayed school openings, schedule changes and transfers to get every problem fixed, he said.

Other problems included a shortage of speech therapists, a lack of occupational therapy and inadequate training, according to the review.

All have been taken care of, according to Brown and Johnston.

Special education programs at all school systems and juvenile facilities in the state are reviewed every four years to comply with a federal funding requirement, Johnston said.

The number of violations found in the Berkeley County Schools' program was comparable with other large school systems, she said.

The state team came to Berkeley County on Feb. 10, 1997, and May 27, 1997, according to the report.

The team conducted 48 interviews, reviewed 53 student files and visited 25 schools, the report said.




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