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Special Education Study presented to Decatur School Board

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Special Education Study presented to Decatur School Board

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A city schools of Decatur bus. Photo from CSD Facebook page.

By Gabriel Owens, contributor 

The Decatur School Board at its May 8 meeting listened to a presentation about a long-awaited report about City Schools of Decatur’s special education services.

The report, which is available online, points out strengths and weaknesses CSD has in regards to special education.

In December 2016, the School Board approved a $93,000 contract with the Georgia State University Research Foundation to conduct a special education program evaluation City Schools of Decatur.

“The staff seems to be stretched a little thin,”  Nicole Patton-Terry, executive director of the Urban Child Study Center and an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, Special Education, and Communication Disorders at Georgia State University, told the board. “Proportionally, you are serving special educational needs, but there are some bumps in the road.”

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Patton-Terry cited a few possible explanations for inconsistencies perceived to exist within special education.

“CSD’s configuration [break up of grade levels] is challenging,” she said.

Another area the report found is while all the special education staff at CSD are knowledgeable, some are ‘more than others.’”

“The word we were getting is ‘Sometimes you have to make sure you find the right administrator,’” Patton-Terry said.

Currently CSD has elementary schools that serve kindergarten through third grade students that feed into a 4/5 Academy.

At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, City Schools of Decatur will go from a system of K-3 elementary schools with a 4-5 academy to a system of K-2 elementary schools and two 3-5 academies.

CSD is building a new 3-5 school at Talley Street which is expected to be finished by the start of the 2019 school year.

Other noted challenges for special education include rapid growth of the school system enrollment. Specific needs and autistic spectrum needs have gone up at the high school level, while they have gone down at the the elementary level.

“We are unsure exactly why,” Patton-Terry said. “At the elementary level, though, it appears [your special education program] is possibly working well.”

The study’s recommendations for improvement of serving special education include possibly redistributing special education resources at the various schools, creating more training opportunities for the CSD staff in all aspects of special education, and involving CSD stakeholders in the process more extensively.

Superintendent David Dude said administrators and the board are considering how to respond to the report’s findings.

“We are still just starting to digest it,” Dude said. “At a future meeting in the next few months, we will be discussing these findings in depth.”

Dude also said his special education team was already working on some of the findings from the report.

Some of the other study recommendations are:

– Including communication procedures to establish consistent expectations

– Considering grade level and disability type when deciding where to expend resources

– Improving data gathering about special education students and examine trends in the school system

One parent said they would like to see this report cross-studied with one on students of color.

“I think this report did not get a lot of data from students of color or their parents,” she said.

The next CSD board meeting is scheduled for June 12.

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