County schools improve procedures for disabled students, but more work needed, state says

tbarton@islandpacket.comAugust 11, 2013 

The Beaufort County School District has made "great strides" in adhering to procedures for educating disabled students but has more progress to make, according to the S.C. Department of Education.

The district was commended for updating its procedures for documenting discipline and training staff members to respond to recurring behavior problems of disabled students.

But the changes, which were required of the district as a result of a state-imposed corrective plan, don't go far enough, according to a May 23 letter to the district from Cathy Boshamer, director of the Office of Exceptional Children at the state Department of Education.

The changes follow a state Department of Education investigation last year prompted by complaints from the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of five students. The investigation found the district had violated federal rules.

Attempts Friday to reach an official with the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center was unsuccessful. A representative from the Southern Poverty Law Center declined to comment and referred questions to Appleseed.

State education officials visited the district April 11 and 12 to measure its progress. The district was notified ahead of time of the visits but was not told which schools would be visited or which student records would be reviewed, a state education official said.

During the visits, officials found:

  • Individually tailored plans for special-education students were not adequately updated.

  • Annual goals in some students' "individualized education plan" -- developed for the education of each disabled student by their parents and district staff -- were not always measurable.

  • Disciplinary referrals in students' folders did not match information on a district tracking sheet or in PowerSchool -- a web-based system that updates parents on their child's attendance, grades, discipline and other information.

  • Lack of an internal audit to ensure student records comply with state and federal regulations.

  • Last August, the district provided several days of training for administrators and teachers on federal regulations governing treatment of disabled students.

    Boshamer, though, says the district needs to provide more training on how to use behavior intervention plans, which describe how school staff will correct behavior that stands in the way of a child's learning.

    State education officials said they will visit again March 25 to 27 and prescribe more corrective action if needed.

    Brenda Hunt, the district's director of special education, said the district has worked hard to improve treatment of disabled students.

    Hunt said she and her staff have gone to schools to "cross-check data" and make certain that all discipline entries are accurate. Teachers and administrators will continue to be informed about federal laws that must be followed when disciplining disabled students.

    "We were encouraged by the visit and their acknowledgment of the progress we are making. It was gratifying to the whole team," Hunt said. "We know we have work left to complete. We have been working on these areas since day one, and we are confident we will address all the areas of the concerns."

    Asked whether she thought the Appleseed Legal Justice Center and Southern Poverty Law Center would feel the same way, Hunt replied: "I would not want to speculate about their feelings, but I would hope we have addressed their concerns."

    Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

    Related content:

    District submits proof of some changes in treatment of disabled students: Aug. 31. 2012

    Investigation finds Beaufort school district violated federal regulations in treatment of students: Aug. 23, 2012

    Advocacy groups allege Beaufort schools mistreated disabled students: June 12, 2012

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