Loudoun school leaders want to take a deeper look at how local public schools are serving special education students.
Several weeks after the school system faced scrutiny over allegations that discipline of special education students ha included leaving them in isolation rooms for hours at a time, the School Board voted April 24 to form an ad hoc committee on special education services.
School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), who initially suggested creating the panel, said it will be charged with “reviewing polices, practices and procedures, so we can determine ways to improve our services to the special needs community.”
The committee will be made up of 19 voting members: three School Board members, six school system staff members selected by Superintendent Eric Williams, three parents of special needs students, one member of the Gifted Advisory Committee, one member from the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee, two members from the Special Education Advisory Committee, two past chairpersons from SEAC, and one certified behavior analyst. The behavior analyst cannot be employed by the school system or contract with any Loudoun County Public Schools parents.
Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian) suggested that final addition to the ad hoc committee. “I think a professional in the industry who is not connected to the school system brings fidelity and a well-rounded perspective to the conversation,” she said.
Morse noted that it is by design that a majority of the panel are parents, as opposed to school employees or board members. “That was a suggestion so they will have the majority vote.”
One board member opposed forming the panel. Tom Marshall (Leesburg) said it’s not needed because the board already receives an annual report from SEAC, a panel made up of parents and other volunteers. Plus, he added, students receiving special education services are on Individualized Education Plans, which he said puts all of the responsibility on the schools and teachers and none on the parents or students.
“So they get their wishes pretty well taken care of,” he said.
Marshall went on to say that some students’ “outrageous behavior” has resulted in them moving schools without any input from the principals. “So I hope any committee you create addresses that.”
Several board members took issue with Marshall’s comments, and told him as much.
“I can only imagine that those words were very painful for parents’ ears, to hear that their children are a discipline problem. It was very hard for me to hear,” Rose said.
“I’ve heard a lot of things from you, Mr. Marshall, but I have to say, that was the worst,” Beth Huck (At Large) said. “Honestly, really uncalled for.”
In her comments, Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said that this new committee wasn’t necessarily related to the parents who have recently approached the board and spoken in news articles about their special needs children’s experiences in school. Board members have considered creating something similar for some time now, she added. “I really hope the community doesn’t think this ad hoc committee is a knee jerk response to recent events,” she said, referring to the parents who have recounted stories of students being isolated as part of their punishment. “There are so many needs in this community and it’s really that time to do a deep dive.”
The committee will present its recommendation to the full School Board no later than Nov. 30.