The 26-member committee tasked with taking a deeper look at how Loudoun County Public Schools serves special education students began talking last week about what improvements need to be made and how to make them.
The School Board’s Ad Hoc Committee on Special Education—made up of School Board members, parents, school administrators, and members of the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Council, the Special Education Advisory Council, and the Gifted Services Advisory Council—met for a second time last Thursday, following a June organizational meeting.
The School Board voted in April to form the ad hoc committee after the school system faced scrutiny over allegations that discipline of special education students had included leaving them in isolation rooms for hours at a time. Many parents making those same reports have said they experienced retaliation for raising concerns about how their children have been treated, in some cases by being reported to Child Protective Services.
School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), who initially suggested creating the panel, said it’s charged with “reviewing polices, practices and procedures, so we can determine ways to improve our services to the special needs community.”
Asia Jones, the school system’s newly hired assistant superintendent for Pupil Services, led last week’s committee meeting. She asked members to split into small groups and pinpoint some of the shortfalls in special education services and suggestions for how to improve them.
One of the most cited criticisms from committee members was the lack of consistency in how the school system interprets students’ Individualized Education Plans from school to school. One suggestion was to improve communication among school administrators, teachers, parents and students.
Park View High School Principal Kirk Dolson presented an idea his small group came up with for improvements in that area. “To make people feel safe about being involved in the process, we could develop a structure to implement peer programs to engage the students and that will engage the parents,” he said. “We could also make that part of the hiring process—when administrators are hiring, ask the candidate how they would implement such programs to encourage community involvement.”
Chris Croll, who represents Gifted Services Advisory Council, said improving communication and staff-parent relationships are key. “When parents do speak up and say this IEP isn’t being followed, there’s a fear of retaliation. I’ve heard that over and over again. … it’s a real concern we need to address.”
Deana Czaban, mother of a special education student, agreed that rebuilding trust needs to be a priority. “You have to be able to trust the people that you’re working with,” she said. “Between staff development and a goal to improve communication, I’m hopeful.”
The committee’s next meeting is 9:30 a.m. Aug. 30. It will meet twice a month and is expected to present its recommendations to the full School Board by Nov. 30.