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Families See Little Progress In DCPS Special Education Issues

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By Kavitha Cardoza

D.C.'s public schools have been making progress towards resolving legal issues surrounding special education. But families of children with disabilities say there is still much more to be finished.

The head of special education for DCPS, Dr. Richard Nyankori, rattles off the court cases he inherited, including one lawsuit resolved last year where students in city jails now receive special education services. In another case, the State Department of Education will now oversee transportation for children with disabilities.

Nyankori says what's especially important is how far they've come in resolving the Blackman Jones case. That's where hearing officers were taking too long to make a decision involving special education related complaints, and schools were taking too long to implement those decisions.

Nyankori says that's changed.

"When we started off there were over 1000 cases in the backlog and a timeliness rate of 21 percent. Today we have maybe one or two cases in the backlog and a timeliness of implementation is 90 percent," Nyankori says.

Lewis Bossing with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law represents the plaintiffs in the Blackman Jones case. He questions how accurate that data is. While he agrees there has been progress made, he says it's in a very narrow sense.

"Whether or not that means DCPS has the capacity to serve students with disabilities effectively in integrated settings. I really don't know if that's happening systemically," he says.

DCPS has been working on a long term strategy to reduce the number of special education students who attend private schools and meet their needs in public schools.

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