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State of Michigan demands change for Benton Harbor’s special education program

State of Michigan demands change for Benton Harbor’s special education program
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by Cassidy Williams, WSBT 22 Reporter

State of Michigan demands change for Benton Harbor’s special education program. //WSBT 22 Photo.

The Michigan Department of Education is demanding more changes for the Benton Harbor School District.

It’s because the district’s special education program has been in non-compliance for four years.

The complaints against the district were brought up at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

The board says it was the first time they had ever heard of a problem.

“We’re not guilty. We’re guilty of not knowing,” said Board President Marletta Seats.

The state says out of the entire state of Michigan, Benton Harbor makes up six percent of the state’s special education complaints.

One complaint alone dealt with more than 70 students.

A board member asked the state representatives how severe this problem is on a scale of 1-10. The state’s answer? It’s a 25 out of 10.

The state’s special education consultant says he’s never seen a district in Michigan go this long without complying.

The complaints include things like how the district handles discipline and over-identifying students with disabilities.

The district was supposed to turn in a plan to correct the issues back in 2015 but failed to do so.

The district has missed numerous other deadlines since. These issues come at a cost.

The state estimates the district has lost more than a half million dollars due to the special education non-compliance.

The state will now be working with the district in hopes that things change.

“We’re not here scared saying that you’re doing everything wrong, but some things have been done wrong. We are trying to work with the district as well as ISD to correct these so you’re not losing money any longer,” said Thomas.

One of the changes is that the board will now get a monthly update on the special education program.

The Benton Harbor School Board will meet again Wednesday night for superintendent Shelly Walker’s annual evaluation.

Walker was placed on administrative leave last month.

The school board hired a law firm to investigate complaints against Walker.

That investigation is still ongoing but Walker’s annual evaluation is going on as scheduled.

After the evaluation, the board will be meeting with the law firm investigating Walker.

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