News & Opinion » News

Rochester school board commits to fixing broken special ed


Rochester school board members agreed last night to implement the recommendations of its Special Advisory Committee on Special Education, which are aimed at overhauling the failing department. Chief among those recommendations is entering into a legally enforceable consent decree, "containing specified consequences should the district fail to substantially comply with its obligations."
Rochester school district administrative office building. - FILE PHOTO
  • Rochester school district administrative office building.

The agreement is between the Rochester City School District and Empire Justice Center. The organization was on the verge of suing the district, as it did 30 years ago, to force improvements in services for special ed students.

The agreement stipulates that the district will become fully compliant with all state and federal obligations to students with disability within three years, meeting specific milestones for compliance during that time. The district will appoint a "special" or "master educator" for outside oversight and accountability.

The advisory committee cited a lengthy list of problems with the district's special education department that included widespread communication problems with parents, lack of trained staff, insufficient programs to meet the needs of students, disproportionate suspensions of students with disabilities,  serious shortage of bilingual special education teachers and staff, and over-classification of students needing special ed services.

The special education committee was led by new board member Melanie Funchess. Board president Van White said this morning that while he agrees with many of the committee's recommendations, he has concerns about the consent decree. He says he fears that it will encourage district staff to meet the minimum requirements for compliance instead of going above and beyond them.