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Vermont: 75% of schools not providing adequate SPED services

Apr 11, 2023, VtDigger: Nearly three-quarters of Vermont’s school districts are under scrutiny for special education. What’s going wrong?

Thirty-eight Vermont school districts and supervisory unions — nearly three-quarters of the total — are under state scrutiny for their special education practices, according to a list provided in response to a public records request.

At first glance, that number appears to be a sign of alarming deficiencies in the state’s special education practices and raises questions about whether Vermont’s students are receiving the services they need — and are legally entitled to.

“It is serious,” said Rachel Seelig, Vermont Legal Aid's Disability Law Project director. “I do think that the state needs to be putting a lot of time and effort into getting students the services and support they need.”…

And some superintendents expressed frustration at the state Agency of Education, saying they have struggled to receive clear communication about special education requirements from the state. …

If a district still fails to come into compliance with regulations even after selective monitoring, it is placed under the highest level of scrutiny, called “targeted monitoring.”

According to a list provided in response to a public records request, 38 districts and supervisory unions were placed in “targeted monitoring”— 74.5% of the state’s total, not counting career and tech center districts.

The list was first obtained through a records request by Mill Moore, the executive director of the Vermont Independent Schools Association, and provided to VTDigger.

Moore declined to comment on the school districts on the list but said he was aware that many schools, both public and private, have struggled to hire special education staff.

Lindsey Hedges, a spokesperson for the Agency of Education, declined multiple requests to make state education officials available for an interview.

In emailed responses to questions, Hedges said that districts could be placed in targeted monitoring “to address issues pertaining to data integrity, accuracy, and the ethical requirements associated with data submission.”…

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education assesses each state to determine whether it is complying with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law that lays the foundation for special education across the country.

In 2020, U.S. Department of Education officials ranked Vermont as “needs intervention,” the second-most serious classification. Vermont students with disabilities performed poorly on standardized tests and received inadequate support when leaving high school, according to the federal government. The state was also dinged for taking too long to address complaints. Only one other state, New York, was ranked at such a high level of concern that year.

In 2021 and 2022, Vermont was classified as “needs assistance,” a category that signals less concern but suggests a state is still not meeting federal requirements. Roughly half of U.S. states have been placed in that category for the past two years….

Children across the country are struggling with what experts have called a mental health crisis, one exacerbated by the upheaval caused by Covid-19….


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