Review faults Park City School District special education program
Report states disconnect exists between parents, district
An independent review of the Park City School District’s special education services found glaring deficiencies in how the district operates the program.
The review was conducted over the course of a week in the fall by 12 staff members of the Utah State Board of Education Special Education Section who studied the district by interviewing parents, teachers and administrators; holding focus groups; and observing classrooms. The group last week delivered a report on its findings to the Park City Board of Education, which commissioned the review in the summer, after a series of criticisms were levied against the special education program.
Leah Voorhies, a program coordinator with the State Board of Education, told the school board that a damaging disconnect among parents, the district and teachers is the most concerning thing the review discovered. The report states parents don’t feel as though they’re participating in the special education process and often have to explain their students’ individualized education programs to teachers. Likewise, teachers reported sometimes feeling bullied by parents.
“There’s communication going on but it’s not appreciated,” Voorhies said. “Consensus building is not happening.”
According to the report, the district should implement and document school- or district-wide multi-tiered systems of support, outlining how the district can provide equal access and opportunity for all students. Additionally, it should provide general education and special education staff with more professional development regarding the basics of special education compliance and services and better instruct them about district policies. It should also improve the English Language Development process for both general education and special education students.
Park City school board member Petra Butler said in the meeting that she was grateful for the report because it highlights areas where the district must improve.
“This is not a nice report — I don’t know how else to phrase it,” she said. “It shows a lot of problems that we have.”
Phil Kaplan, president of the school board, said in an interview with The Park Record that few of the report’s findings shocked him. School officials requested the review because they knew there were major problems in the special education program.
“We wanted to do a review so we are providing the best possible services for all of our children,” he said. “The concern was around making sure we (make improvements) the right way and up to standards.”
The report also highlighted areas where Park City schools are excelling. The review team lauded the district for offering high-quality general and special education instruction; its co-teaching model that provides special-needs students with a teacher who is a core content expert and another who focuses on specialized instruction and intervention; its level of engagement among both students and teachers; and the involvement of Latino parents in school activities.
The Park City school board and Superintendent Ember Conley invited the review after the district’s special education program became the focus of controversy last spring. An investigation from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights at that time found the district discriminated against a young diabetic student and failed to properly implement her disability accommodation plan. When that investigation became public, several other parents of diabetic students also raised concerns about the care of their children.
Kaplan said the review sheds light on how district administration can alleviate those concerns and the others highlighted in the report. Over the summer, the district hired a new director of special education, Jennifer Slade, to revamp the program, an effort that is already underway.
“There’s no surprise there were some things we weren’t doing well,” he said. “We knew that. The idea now is that we have the right people in place to move it forward and do things better.”
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“I think one of the things that really, really, really scares … us is knowing that there are go-to docs that they can send out saying a student or a teacher or a staff member died,” said union co-president Julie Hooker.