UPPER MARLBORO – School board member Edward Burroughs called for an external audit of the school system’s special education department at a Board of Education committee meeting on Thursday, but some school board members say they need more information before they make a decision. “Honestly, the special education department is a mess,” Burroughs said. “Students […]
UPPER MARLBORO – School board member Edward Burroughs called for an external audit of the school system’s special education department at a Board of Education committee meeting on Thursday, but some school board members say they need more information before they make a decision.
“Honestly, the special education department is a mess,” Burroughs said. “Students in special education programs are the most vulnerable students. They’re not completely getting services.”
In the past two months, Burroughs hosted three listening sessions to hear about parents’ concerns relating to special education.
“As chair of the policy [committee], I knew I wanted to enact some proposal. But I needed to hear firsthand from the community to get an idea of policies to create,” Burroughs said. “There are so many issues, in so many different areas.”
At the listening sessions parents expressed concerns about a lack of communication, lack of accessible schools and difficulties getting children recognized to participate individual education programs (IEP). Parents also said they observed school staff being unsupportive or disrespectful to students with mental or physical disabilities.
School Board Chairman Segun Eubanks said he wants more information before considering an external audit of the special education department.
“I don’t think we have anywhere near enough information for a board about what is or isn’t working in our system,” Eubanks said. “We should address the full range of policy options to address special education.”
Board member Curtis Valentine said an audit of the special education department should not be based on anecdotal experiences alone.
“Are we basing it on the loudest 50 parents at a hearing?” Valentine said. “Special education is incredibly important, but if we go from that notion to auditing an entire system because you believe it’s broken without having data to substantiate it, it’s going down a slippery slope.”
However, Burroughs said a full external audit by special education experts could help influence policy the school board can propose.
“I’m not saying an audit will fix everything, but it can explore what the issues are,” Burroughs said. “To say we need a million presentations to say the system needs reform, we’re losing students.”
Ronetta Stanley, executive director of Loud Voices Together, an educational advocacy group based in Temple Hills, said she thinks an external audit would be a good idea.
“I think that is a wonderful step in the right direction to remedy some of the concerns,” said Stanley, who attended two of the three special education listening sessions. “It would create transparency, now that problems are open to view. What are we going to do now that issues are exposed?”
Loud Voices Together will host a conference to educate parents and educators about special needs students in April 2015, Stanley said.
“Coming off the energy of the three sessions, we know there’s a need to empower parents so they can have a voice,” Stanley said.
Burroughs said he will do whatever it takes to get an audit done.
“I will go to the fifth floor of the county administration building with angry parents and be taken out, handcuffed and arrested,” Burroughs said. “I’m willing to protest school board meetings to get this through.”