- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Two northern Indiana school districts have been cited by the state Department of Education for disproportionately disciplining black special education students.

South Bend Community School Corp. and School City of Mishawaka were cited in two special education categories of in-school suspensions of 10 days or fewer for black students and out-of-school suspensions/expulsions for 10 days or fewer for black students, according to records obtained from the Education Department by the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/1cXJP0y).

South Bend schools also were cited for total disciplinary removals of black students and for over-identifying white students with autism spectrum disorders. District officials are appealing that finding because they say the data the state examined included students who don’t attend South Bend schools.

Pamela Wright, the state Education Department’s director of special education, said her department looks at data in more than a dozen categories for each school corporation in the state to determine whether there are racial or ethnic disproportionalities. About two dozen Indiana school systems were cited for significant disproportionalities this spring, Wright said.

Districts do a “root cause analysis,” Wright said, and determine whether any policies or practices need changing. In some cases, the state also reviews files to evaluate procedures.

In South Bend, she said, the latter is currently going on. The Education Department’s findings will be released in November.

Districts with significant disproportionalities are required to spend 15 percent of their special education grant on early intervention services. Some districts, including South Bend, will also be monitored by the state on an ongoing basis.

South Bend special education Director Donna Krol said aside from the autism category the district is challenging, the district’s findings are that the other disproportionalities “very likely” can be attributed to a need for teacher training.

Pam von Rahl, director of Joint Services, a special education cooperative of Mishawaka and Penn-Harris-Madison schools, said students at the residential treatment center at Oaklawn caused the district’s numbers to be skewed. Oaklawn takes in students from all geographic areas, she said, who are educationally served by School City since the facility is within the district’s boundaries.

“When the kids have a blowup or are unable to be in class,” she said, “it’s reported as a suspension.”

The district administration is working with Oaklawn staff to develop a process that would allow students to work on class work even if they are put out of class for behavior issues.

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com


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