By Stefanie Jackson – Accomack schools Director of Special Education Jennifer Annis recently announced “excellent news” that the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) determined dozens of noncompliance errors it found last year on student IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) have been corrected.
“But the most important part of that is my teachers and they work that they did … hats off to the special ed department for the tireless hours that they spent – days, nights – writing IEPs. They had to amend every single IEP in this county, which is close to 800,” Annis said.
VDOE finds a school division noncompliant if a student’s IEP is not fully implemented.
That doesn’t necessarily mean teachers willfully disregarded the IEP. Noncompliance errors can result from inconsistencies in the IEP – for example, if one part of the plan states the student will receive 20 hours of a particular service every three months, but another part states the student will receive 20 hours of the service every month.
In spring 2019, VDOE representatives audited 85 randomly selected records of special education students, spent a week visiting Accomack school buildings, and identified 51 noncompliance errors.
In spring 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a follow-up audit was completed virtually. The VDOE representatives determined that the 51 previously noted errors had been corrected. They also checked the records of 50 additional, random special education students, and found no errors.
Accomack’s special education program will remain in improvement status for the 2020-2021 school year, with the expectation that it will maintain the corrections made, Annis said.
Her department was also provided a list of improvement areas to work on, such as academic achievement, behavior and discipline, and graduation rates.
School board member Edward Taylor asked who will monitor the special education program to ensure it remains in compliance; Annis said she would discuss it with Assistant Superintendent Rhonda Hall.
She thanked the school board for its recent approval to hire four additional special education teachers, meaning no special education teacher in the division will have more than 15 students.
Her department also received a $10,000 grant for its transition program, which helps special education students prepare for higher education or a job after graduation.
The $10,000 was used to purchase iPads for the special education students in transition.
Students in self-contained special education classes will also receive iPads this year, along with curriculums that focus on both cognitive and social-emotional development.
Accomack schools will start a new autism program at Kegotank and Pungoteague Elementary School, Nandua Middle School, and Nandua High School this year, Annis said.
The autism program will be enhanced through the purchase of new sensory equipment. Each of the two participating elementary schools will have its own sensory room with equipment including a swing, mini trampoline, and crash pad. Weighted items will be available for middle and high school students.
School board member Janet Turner asked for the numbers of special education students who will learn via the hybrid option (attending school in person and participating in virtual learning, each two days a week) or the 100% virtual option when classes resume in September.
Parents have voiced concern that two days a week of in-person learning isn’t enough for special education students who benefit from one-on-one interaction with teachers.
Of all parents of Accomack special education students, 254 chose the hybrid option, 271 chose the 100% virtual option, and more than 60 were undecided as of Aug. 18, Annis said.
Every special education student’s IEP must be modified based on which back-to-school option the student’s parent chooses.
Annis noted IEP meetings will not be required for every change due to a “COVID amendment” that allows IEP team members to speak with each other and parents individually. IEPs must be finalized by Sept. 8.