The Impact of Disproportionate Suspension of Students with Disabilities

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by Pamela Talley, Sarah Wayland, and Troy Sampson

For the last nine years, Prince George’s County has been suspending students with disabilities at twice the rate they suspend students without disabilities. Because of a punitive regulation in Federal Law (IDEA), this means that 15% of the Special Education budget (roughly $3.8 million each year) cannot be used to fund special education in our county.

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from Maryland Public School Suspensions by School and Major Offense Category, 2017-208, Maryland State Department of Education

To help you interpret the table above, in 2017 the total number of students enrolled in Prince George’s County Public Schools was 130,814, the number of Black or African American students was 75,818, and the number of students with disabilities was 14,999. That means that the suspension rate for All Students was 1.25%, for Black and African American Students it was 1.56%, and for disabled students the rate was 2.49%.

This may not sound surprising, but it’s important for parents, especially those who have children with disabilities, to understand the real implications. For the last nine years, as a penalty for suspending children with disabilities at a higher rate than their non-disabled peers, PGCPS has been forced to spend 15% of its Special Education budget on supports for students in general education. The Federal Government forbids the spending of this money on special education services. For a school system the size of PGCPS, the amount of money being withheld from our students who need the most support is approximately $3.8 million dollars per year.

Instead, the money must be spent on Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CEIS), which are :

” . . . services provided to students in kindergarten through grade 12 (with a particular emphasis on students in kindergarten through grade three) who are not currently identified as needing special education or related services, but who need additional academic and behavioral supports to succeed in a general education environment.

“The [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] IDEA (20 U.S.C. §1413(f)(2)) and its regulations (34 CFR §300.226(b)) identify the activities that may be included as CEIS:

(1) professional development for teachers and other school staff to enable such personnel to deliver scientifically based academic and behavioral interventions, including scientifically based literacy instruction, and, where appropriate, instruction on the use of adaptive and instructional software; and

(2) providing educational and behavioral evaluations, services, and supports, including scientifically based literacy instruction.”

(From: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/ceis-guidance.doc)

In a presentation to the PGCPS School Board on October 11th, 2018, Dr. Gwendolyn Mason reported the following:

Issue #3: Disproportionality

  • In summer 2016, a meeting was held with MSDE [Maryland State Department of Education] to discuss the overhaul of the CEIS program in PGCPS since the previous plan from 2009-2016 was misaligned to PGCPS areas of need.
  • Based on analysis of suspension and expulsion data, MSDE determined that PGCPS was significantly disproportionate in the disciplinary removal of students with disabilities compared to nondisabled students.
  • PGCPS must use 15% of IDEA Part B funds to develop and provide Coordinated Early Intervention Services (CEIS); over $26 million has been restricted to support the CEIS program.

(You can find a link to the Board of Education meeting on video, as well as supporting documents on the SECAC website here: http://secacpg.org/document-center/selected-presentation-handouts/)

This means that over the last nine years, $26+ million of IDEA funds were shifted from the PGCPS Department of Special Education Budget to the General Education Budget to support CEIS programming. This is because any program funded from this 15% penalty under CEIS (Coordinated Early Intervening Services) CANNOT be used to service a student with an Individualized Education Plan (or IEP – the legal document created for some students with disabilities that spells out the supports, accommodations, and services necessary for that student to be educated.)

In more than one meeting over the past several years, community members involved with special education have been told that PGCPS is increasing the number of Crisis Intervention Resource Teachers (CIRTs)to approximately 28. What we failed to understand is that because these positions are funded by CEIS funds, those employees cannot serve students receiving special education. These are people trained to help kids with challenging behaviors, but they cannot help students who are identified through the IEP process. And our special education dollars are paying for those services that kids receiving special education cannot access.

It is important to note that there are approximately seven CIRTs (not under CEIS) that are supporting students with IEPs in specific schools within the county (these are not on the list linked to above; we do not know which schools are served by these seven additional CIRTs). Could access to additional CIRTs benefit students with IEPs? Absolutely. Additional support for students facing varied crises, especially those with IEPs, would be an invaluable support towards achieving positive outcomes and narrowing educational gaps.

On February 26th, Trinell Bowman, Director of Special Education for Prince George’s County Public School, informed the Special Education Coalition that steps are being made to improve disproportionality, however PGCPS will likely NOT meet the target this year either.

The next Special Education Citizens’ Advisory Committee (SECAC) meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 26th at 6:30 pm at John Carroll Elementary School in Landover. Please join us for a discussion on IDEA and COMAR guidelines and regulations on disproportionality and learn about the PGCPS strategic plan to reduce and eliminate the disproportionate number of students with disabilities and students of color who are suspended or expelled.  

Troy Sampson is the chair of SECAC-PG. Pamela Talley and Sarah Wayland are both former chairs.

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