Iowa to investigate Davenport special education program

The special education department in the Davenport Community School District will be subject of a state investigation in late January.

According to a memo released Friday, this is a fiscal and program accreditation review by the Iowa Department of Education, Des Moines.

Patti Pace-Tracy, director of the special education department, will brief Davenport School Board members about the visit during a special work session at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Pace-Tracy authored the memo, and said the visit is because, in a state audit, several items came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Education, involving students with disabilities.

• Davenport’s percentage of students with disabilities placed in restrictive settings is among the highest in the state.

• The audit found concerns with the district’s Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, made for each special needs student. Concerns center on individualization and pre-determination of services, especially for students with behavior issues.

• The state audit review shows concerns about removing students from school with suspensions and expulsions.

• Davenport has also reported the largest increase in special education expenses, from fiscal year 2016 to 2017.

The state’s three-day visit is set for Jan. 30-Feb. 1. The team will consist of seven to 10 members of the state education department staff.

While Pace-Tracy’s memo indicates she will provide more information at Wednesday’s  session, it includes in general what is to be reviewed:

  • A file review of documents from areas including equity, human resources, special education, board reports, policy manuals, course handbooks, financial documents and more.
  • Interviews with a sample of general education teachers, special education teachers, para-professionals, directors, staff of the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency, school board members and perhaps, parents.

In 2016, a parent, Megan Long of Davenport, ran for school board, and made public her discontent with Davenport’s special education department.

Long has a special needs daughter, and she delivered a five-minute presentation to the board in May 2016. In that presentation, Long decried changes in the special education program, said teachers were bullied by the administration, and parents were not informed when programs were closed, or moved from one school to another.

Long also offered suggestions for improvements in 2016, including setting up a task force for special education to include board members, both special ed and regular teachers and members of the administration.

In July 2016, three months after her presentation to the school board, Long said the process she started was at a standstill.

Late Friday, a representative of the state department of education said Davenport will get what is called a “combined” audit. According to Staci Hupp, this is both a review of the program, special education and the finances it involves.

This type of audit is rare in Iowa. In the past three years, Hupp said the combined audit has been conducted four times. In one instance, which involved the Iowa City public school district, the audit was on special education. The other three audits were in other areas, not special education, she said.

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