Iowa Department of Education outlines expectations to resolve Davenport special education issues

DAVENPORT, Iowa-- The Iowa Department of Education outlined expectations and next steps to resolve noncompliance issues in the Davenport School District's special education programs Wednesday night. During a special call, open school board meeting on Oct. 30, three representatives from the Department of Education revisited the audit the department conducted earlier this year.

"It feels like things got out of hand," School Board President Ralph Johanson said during the meeting.

The audit found that changes were made to special ed students' individualized education plans (IEPs) without holding meetings required by federal law or properly involving parents in the changes. Those plan guide a student's education based on his or her personal needs.

It also found that a disproportionate number of black students were placed in special education programs.

"[Administrators] haven't been afraid of breaking these rules at all," says Lori Janke, who has a fourth-grade special ed student in the Davenport schools. "They've been doing it, and this is the repercussions of it."

The district is mandated to work with the Department of Education to resolve these issues. The Department of Education provided guidelines Wednesday to help the district identify noncompliant policies and procedures.

The representatives noted that placement in special education programs is supposed to be made on a case by case basis. But some school policies and procedures were using some factor to dictate which programs students were placed in. These could be formal or informal.

The Department of Education also highlighted ways to spot disproportionality. Examples included disciplinary rules that appear fair but in practice, many more students of color are suspended or expelled.

"I believe that there's a lot of good work that's taking place," Johanson says. "The administration is doing a lot. They're working with the teachers, the administrators, everyone to try and understand what all of this means and to correct it."

The school district has until April 2019 to correct IEPs that were changed illegally. The Department of Education said Wednesday it expects the district to meet this requirement. Changes to reduce disproportionately and to change and rewrite policies and procedures will take years, according to the representatives from the Department of Education.

"It's gonna take a while to change people and change the culture of everything, to have policies work for it," Janke says.