New report finds Virginia needs to do better with special education

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new report finds Virginia isn’t making the grade when it comes to special education.

JLARC, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, was requested to take a thorough look at K-12 special education services in the commonwealth. The watchdog agency for the state legislature found students need more services, teachers need more training and the state needs to provide more leadership.

“Virginia should be doing a much better job than it is now,” said Hal Greer, Director for JLARC.

The study found that while there’s been an improvement, students with disabilities, are still far less likely to graduate high school, particularly Black students and students in Southern Virginia.

“Schools divisions are not consistently preparing students with disabilities for life after high school,” said Drew Dickinson, JLARC’s Project Leader.

The report found a long-standing shortage of special education teachers remains a critical problem.

“Many school divisions rely on underprepared teachers to fill the gap,” Dickinson said.

The findings from the non-partisan research and oversight agency back up complaints 8News have long heard from parents about how schools handle their child’s IEP or Individualized Education Program. JARLC found half of the IEP’s lacked goals for academic progress and one-third lacked a description of a student’s functional needs. However, that’s required by federal law.

“We found that VDOE leadership is needed,” said Dickinson. Over the summer, the U.S. Department of Education criticized The Virginia Department of Education for a lack of special education oversight. JLARC investigators said they concur.

“We determined that VDOE’s investigations of complaints against divisions appear to meet minimal federal requirements,” Dickinson said.

James Lane, Superintendent of Public Instruction for Virginia’s Department of Education is promising a new approach.

“We are absolutely committed to making the enhancements in this report,” Dickinson said.

Just hours after the report was released, The Virginia Department of Education announced a new model for investigating complaints, more transparency for families, and additional training for school staff regarding those IEP’s.

State lawmakers like House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn indicted special education is on their radar and they’ll be watching.

“This is something,” said Filler-Corn, “that is a top priority.”

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