- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2003

D.C. public school officials yesterday said an additional 540 spots will be available this year to students with special needs and that nearly 2,000 principals, staff and faculty have had training in special education during the spring and summer.

Superintendent Paul L. Vance said he us appalled at deficiencies in the special-education program. “Reform is not just a word on a page …,” Mr. Vance said. “It is a living reality, and I expect it to be implemented to a person.”

He said officials must “proceed at a pace much more rapid than the one we’ve established,” noting that employees recently were late getting needed equipment to a child with impaired vision.

DC Appleseed and Piper Rudnick LLP are investigating the case of Jonathan Herring, the special-education student who received a computer and other assistive technology months after an order was issued by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman.

Mr. Vance suspended four special-education officials on Aug. 5 for failing to comply with the court order.

School officials have formulated a five-year plan under which special education will have expanded services, allowing more students to go to school in their own neighborhoods.

Some special-education students have to ride buses for as long as an hour to get to the schools that serve their needs.

A $3 million congressional grant has allowed officials to add to the number of students that special-education schools can serve and renovate some buildings.

Of the 540 new spots in the District, 170 will be filled by students returning to the schools, with the remainder going to new special-education students.

Ray Bryant, chief of special-education reform for D.C. public schools, estimated the cost of serving the additional 540 student spots at $7 million to $9 million.

Also, officials have ordered 90 new buses and said efforts to ensure children are taken to school safely and on time are on track. Special-education students have had transportation problems in the past, with drivers failing to show up on time or at all. As a consequence the matter was brought under court supervision.

Of the nearly 68,000 D.C. public school students, more than 12,100, or 18 percent, are receiving special-education services. Seventy-six percent of those students are served in public schools and the others attend nonpublic programs.

Mr. Bryant said officials are working to come up with enough slots for students who are not being served in D.C. public schools.

He said he is confident that a certified teacher will be in every special-education classroom when students arrive Sept. 2 and that officials will begin strengthening the system for the long term when classes get under way.

“Beyond the opening of school, we’re going to turn our attention to the systemic problems,” Mr. Bryant said.

“At the end of five years, we will have a program in D.C. everyone can be proud of,” he said.

David Gilmore, who was appointed as an independent transportation administrator for the school system by a federal court in late June, said the 600 bus routes are set and that he is optimistic that operations will go smoothly.

“Every time anyone of those yellow buses opens its door to a child … we are opening a door to a day’s education for that child,” he said.

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