Wednesday, August 1, 2012

MDUSD appears to misrepresent some information in letter to parents about special education transportation changes

By Theresa Harrington
Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 at 6:31 pm in EducationMt. Diablo school district.

Although a June 20 letter to some Mt. Diablo district parents appears to attribute details about upcoming transportation changes to an outside agency, I have found that the district actually generated some of the information itself.

The letter includes drastic changes in special education busing procedures, including one that is being implemented “immediately,” one that will go into effect Aug. 26 and one set to begin Jan. 7.
According to the letter, the changes were based on a “Financial Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) study to assist with identifying more effective and efficient means to provide special education transportation.”
Yet, the district didn’t receive FCMAT’s draft transportation report until July 18 — nearly one month after the letter was written. The district had, however, received a June 5 letter from FCMAT outlining some of its preliminary findings and recommendations.

The June 20 letter to parents states: “The study revealed that we are significantly overidentifying transportation as a related service for special education students. For example, the district currently provides transportation to 26 percent of our students with an IEP (Individualized Education Programs); however, in most districts reviewed by FCMAT the average was approximately 10 percent. The FCMAT team found that the district has an inordinately high number of parents who receive reimbursement in lieu of transportation services. One similarly sized district has only two parents who are paid in lieu while we reimburse 144 parents. In response to the FCMAT findings and recommendations, the district is modifying special education transportation services as follows.”

First, the letter states that parents will only be reimbursed for transporting students if the district is unable to do it.

Second, it states that special education students who attend their neighborhood schools will no longer receive transportation unless they have unique needs.

Third, it says some students will be picked up and dropped off at nearby schools, instead of at their homes, beginning Jan. 7. According to this “cluster model,” students would then be transported to and from schools that are farther away, the letter states.

But when I read FCMAT’s June 5 letter and July 18 draft report, I didn’t see any mention of the “similar sized district” referenced in the Mt. Diablo letter. So, I sent an email to Bill Gillaspie, chief administrative officer for FCMAT, pointing out that the information did not appear in its letter or draft report and asking which district it was using as a comparison, how many special education students it served and what percentage of them were transported to and from school.

Here is his emailed answer, which I received this morning:

“In response to your question, we did not give the district the ‘similarly’ sized district. We don’t know what district they are referring to, so I can’t tell you how many students with IEPs there are or how many are being transported. You are correct. We make no reference about this in the draft report. The district must have that information that they are referring to in their letter to parents.”

I also noticed that the draft report attributed the “cluster” idea to an analysis the district received “from a third party expert in special education law, compliance with IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and best practices.”

“As a result,” the draft report states, “Mt. Diablo Unified is working towards clustering special education students at group stops where appropriate and training special education staff members in the IEP process and in determining whether transportation should be a related service. That same expert has developed a checklist that can be used in IEP meetings to help appropriately direct the provision of service.”

Read more of Theresa Harrington's On Assignment article HERE.

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