As the April 23 deadline for many of Davenport's state-mandated corrective actions regarding special education approaches, the school board is feeling a “sense of urgency.”
One state-mandate is to review and update the district’s policy on services for students with disabilities. The changes are mostly to update the “out-of-date” language and make it more “user-friendly," said Susan Downs, interim director of exceptional education.
The first line of the proposed new policy reads: “The Davenport Community School Board will guarantee compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] … concerning the identification, evaluation, educational placement, and provision of a free appropriate public education to students with disabilities birth to 21.”
Board president Ralph Johanson and vice president Linda Hayes both noted that “guarantee” was a strong word.
“We have to put it in there, and we have to say it strongly," Downs said. "We have several citations because we were not in compliance. … We need to be accountable.”
The issue with the word “guarantee,” Johansan said, was that the board and the district have different levels of involvement in the day-to-day activities in the schools.
“Is it the board’s responsibility, or is it the district’s responsibility?” Johanson asked. “ … We don’t have the ongoing, day-to-day view of any of this kind of stuff. It’s very difficult.”
Director Julie De Salvo questioned why the policy change came as an action item; typically, a policy change is introduced to the board as a discussion item and they vote at a later meeting. The lack of discussion was also noted by parent Catarina Bolton in the meeting’s open forum.
The board voted to amend the policy to replace references to the school board with references to the district. Director Daniel Gosa was the only vote against; he asked if the change took the board’s “skin out of the game.”
Director Clyde Mayfield did not attend the meeting. Johanson said he has been facing a “significant illness for some time.”
While the board approved the amendment, the vote has been tabled until the next meeting. Johanson asked that district implementation advisor Sandy Schmitz — who was not in attendance — offer some sort of “assurance” that the changes meet the compliance issues.
Later in the meeting, Downs presented an update on the district's compensatory education, a district requirement for special education students who did not receive appropriate services in the past.
When asked if the district would make the April 23 deadline to review which students need compensatory services, Downs said, "unless some big catastrophe happens, yes. “ … This has been a very big undertaking at the building level. … They have been troopers, and we’ve been very fortunate.”
The district plans to send out a survey to parents after spring break that will focus on the meeting process for students' individualized education plans, and whether parents are satisfied with their level of involvement. Downs added that there would be extra space on the survey for comments.