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November 04, 2008
District working on corrective action for special education
High school held up as 'model' program
TRINIDAD, Colorado (STPNS) -- The executive director of the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) for south central Colorado, Cindi Seidel, addressed the board of education for Trinidad School District No. 1 (TSD) at their regular meeting last Tuesday to inform the board of the corrective action plan upon which BOCES had placed the district to help reform its special education program.
South Central BOCES is one of 21 similar intermediate service agencies in Colorado, created by the state legislature to provide administrative and educational services to its member districts. The BOCES to which TSD belongs has 15 member districts, about 31,000 students and spans about 10,000 square miles across several counties including Las Animas, Huerfano, Crowley, Custer, Fremont, Otero and Pueblo counties.
BOCES' special education program is one of the board's largest programs, according to Seidel, and membership in an administrative unit managing the program, such as a BOCES, is required of districts with fewer than 4,000 students. TSD has about 1,500 students.
"The reason that small districts have to be part of an administrative unit is that special education is a very expensive program," Seidel said. "It's required by both federal and state law, and...the federal and state laws regarding accommodating the children with special education needs into the general education programs were considered landmark laws. "
The BOCES administrative unit is responsible for ensuring compliance with federal and state laws pertaining to special needs students among its member districts. When one member district is out of compliance with federal and state laws, the entire BOCES is considered out of compliance.
South Central BOCES is currently considered out of compliance with federal and state laws for special needs students. TSD is the only member district out of compliance. "When it comes to special education, a district does not operate by itself," Seidel said. "If we have a district that needs special attention and special help to get them to compliance, it is the BOCES responsibility to put the district on a corrective action."
TSD was noted by Seidel as having 15 percent of its student population the subject of Individual Education Plans (IEP) that are used to monitor and direct the education of a special needs student. Seidel also noted that percentage as being 50 percent more than the average national level. "It doesn't necessarily mean that kids are being referred to or placed in special (education classes) unnecessarily," she said. "Different communities may have different risk factors and needs...(the district may) have more special education students than ordinarily expected."
BOCES is held accountable for compliance with federal and state laws by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) through three monitoring processes. That includes regular annual reporting to the CDE, "very rare" dispute resolution processes in case of internal disputes and the Continuous Progress Monitoring Process (CIMP).
CIMP, under which BOCES has been reporting to the CDE for the past three-and-a-half years, includes self-assessments, an initial data gathering by the CDE, CDE reviews and comments, on-site evaluations, focus groups and surveys on the BOCES' compliance with special needs requirements and an annual compliance corrective action plan with further monitoring by CDE.
"You have one-year to do it (bring the district into compliance with special needs requirements), and if you don't then the CDE can impose sanctions like taking away federal money," Seidel said. "But we are not in a position to have any of those sanctions put in place."
She went on to say that at the BOCES' most recent evaluation, the CDE had determined it was in compliance, meaning 100 percent alignment with legal requirements, in regards to 25 out of 29 criteria. Still to be handled by the BOCES in general, and TSD specifically, are compliance with laws regarding appropriate assessments for students qualifying as English Language Learners, data verification and timelines to ensure that BOCES databases mesh with the electronic IEP program, the development of IEPs that are based on individual students' needs and transitional IEPs for students turning 15 as required by federal law.
Despite TSD's status as the sole district causing the South Central BOCES to be out of compliance, Seidel held Trinidad High School (THS) up as "a model" example of how a school could accommodate its special needs students. "In (THS) you have a state model in a high school that serves students with disabilities," Seidel said. "High schools are usually one of the hardest places to meet individual kids' needs...but, it isn't done better anywhere."
Asked during an October interview about THS' superior special needs-related accomplishments, THS Principal Jennifer Mason noted the school's effort at bringing special needs students into the classroom with their more mainstream peers. "For three years we've been doing an inclusion model where our Special Ed teachers team-teach with our Regular Ed teachers...so they're helping all kids, not just Special Ed children," Mason said. "All Special Ed kids are in Regular Ed classes...pretty much everything is within Regular Ed classes."
Seidel said Tuesday that she saw progress being made in the districts' compliance with the corrective action plan. "I'm very hopeful that we are doing our part in providing good, solid services to you, and everybody is really engaged in the partnership," she said. "We're on our way, the partnership is strong and we are going to be at that 100-percent level."
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