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Leaving Special Needs Behind, by Richard Innes
Mr. Innes writes about the Kentucky Department of Education: "Our investigation of the Covington Independent Public Schools leaves little doubt that the school district's culture creates an unsupportive - if not openly hostile and even frightening - environment for students with learning disabilities."
Leaving special needs behind
Op-Ed column by Richard G. Innes


Our investigation of the Covington Independent Public Schools leaves little doubt that the school district's culture creates an unsupportive - if not openly hostile and even frightening - environment for students with learning disabilities.

"Interviews and observations across the district reveal the perception that special education, as a program, is not valued in the district," concluded the Kentucky Department of Education's report, based on an inquiry conducted from Feb. 27 to March 3, 2006. The state team also reported it found no evidence that "culture and climate issues (related to special education) are consistently being addressed by the district."

To ensure the charges reported in the Kentucky Department of Education's audit were accurate and not simply uncovering temporary problems sometimes found in such snapshot visits, the Bluegrass Institute examined the report alongside a 2001 evaluation conducted by the state's Office of Education Accountability (OEA) and other documentation.

Our simultaneous examination of the two reports offered compelling evidence of a set of trends indicating Covington schools' learning-disabled children have been very poorly served for at least the past five years. Those trends are examined in our report entitled "The Most 'Left Behind' of All: The plight of special-needs children in Covington Independent Public Schools."

What the evidence shows:

Students with learning disabilities are not being taught by experienced and well-trained professionals due, in large part, to excessive turnover of special-education teachers.

Committees admitting students into Covington schools' special-education program are unfamiliar with the rules, commit significant documentation errors and have questionable histories of dealing with parents.

Noncompliance with laws protecting special-needs children.

Additional evidence contained in the state's recent No Child Left Behind reports indicates Covington is not unique in its ineffective handling of special-needs education. Kentucky's 2006 No Child Left Behind report demonstrates that a multitude of Kentucky school districts failed to make adequate yearly progress during the 2005-06 school term, with the overwhelming cause being the poor performance of their special-education children.

A November 2005 report by the Bluegrass Institute, which documents the state's deplorable coverage for students with learning disabilities, demonstrates how the Kentucky Department of Education uses every available loophole to keep school districts from being held accountable for these special students. As a result of these loopholes, 75 of the state's 176 school districts did not report any reading test scores for learning-disabled students in 2006. Due to its very large enrollment of special-needs children, Covington could not use the state's No Child Left Behind loopholes and did report scores for this group. However, a culture of educational neglect of our state's neediest children extends beyond the borders of the Covington district.

So why do Frankfort's education bureaucrats seem content just to write reports? Problems in Covington have continued for at least half a decade. Urgent action is needed to end the trend of special-needs children being left even farther behind. Lawmakers are morally bound to help the parents of Kentucky's special-needs students to find better alternatives for their children.

If our new report only addressed the problems of Covington's special-ed students, it would be no more effective than those treatises already published. As a result, we offer several promising options, including differentiated teacher pay and scholarships for children with learning disabilities.

For too long, Kentucky's learning-disabled children and their parents have faced environments ranging from indifferent to clearly hostile in our state's public-education system.

Some education officials would prefer to lock the problem away in a closet rather than come to grips with the challenges of meeting the educational needs of special-needs children.

Richard G. Innes is an education analyst for the Bluegrass Institute in Bowling Green, Ky.

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation