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Sun Prairie schools to revamp special ed screening

  • Associated Press
  • November 9, 2013 - 2:55 PM

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. — The Sun Prairie School District has reached an agreement with federal authorities to revamp its process for screening students for special education and to bolster teacher training after the U.S. Department of Education found racial disparities.

The federal agency's Office for Civil Rights said Friday that a compliance review found a disproportionate number of the suburban Madison district's black students were being placed in special education programs, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/1bhdqKv ). While black students made up 10 percent of the district's enrollment in the 2012-13 school year, they made up 24.2 percent of the students enrolled in special education.

Screenings for students who might be struggling vary from school to school within the 7,372-student district, and the investigation found some students referred to special education did not receive follow-up.

The district voluntarily agreed to make changes, including hiring an outside expert to examine placement procedures, developing a universal screening process and reviewing student records to see if their placements in special educations were appropriate.

School officials also agreed to make teachers and staff aware of the overrepresentation of black students in special education, and how other interventions can be used for students who struggle with behavior or academic issues. And the district will conduct an annual review of its screening, intervention and placement processes.

The office said the Sun Prairie district, particularly its executive director of student services, Jennifer Apodaca, cooperated throughout the review from the very start.

"Students of all races are entitled to equitable opportunities to learn across their school district," said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for the office for civil rights. "With this agreement, the district has taken an important step in working to ensure that unlawful discrimination or racial bias does not result in overrepresentation of black students in special education."

The district hopes to learn from the process, Apodaca said. The district has been working on the issue for the past five years, she said.

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