The state is about to launch a year-long effort to train local educators on how to implement a sweeping, problem-plagued new law that is supposed to help some special education students earn a high school diploma.
“I feel great urgency to move forward to getting the work to the local level,” state Superintendent of Education John White told a steering panel that is grappling with issues that stem from the measure.
The law, Act 833, is aimed at setting up new rules on how special education students qualify for a traditional high school diploma.
That is done mostly by giving new authority to a student’s advisory team to map out alternative pathways to graduation.
The state has about 83,000 students with disabilities.
The changes were pushed by some special education advocates, not the state Department of Education, but backers of the law have said for weeks that swift department action is needed to make the law work.
The overhaul, which became law in August and applies to the current school year, has triggered statewide complaints from local educators seeking guidance on how to identify students who can benefit and how they are supposed to hammer out new routes to a high school diploma.
White said there is a serious need to aid local teams who draw up a special education student’s academic plan, which is called an Individualized Education Program, or IEP.
He said that, under the latest plan, IEP teams will be offered a series of webinars from January to April that spell out how the changes can be meshed into daily school operations.
White said that, from April through December, personal sessions with the advisory teams will provide more details on how the new rules work.
He said assistance will be needed from a Louisiana-based firm to carry out the training.
“The department alone is not going to be able to do that,” White said. “You are talking about hundreds and hundreds of hours.”
The assistance is designed to address concerns like those of St. Helena Parish School District Superintendent Kelli Joseph, who is a member of the steering committee.
Joseph said her district is grappling with how to help high school seniors with the new rules, and worried that district decisions on individual students might be second guessed later.
White said that, under the law, IEP teams enjoy huge authority in deciding what students should know under non-traditional paths to graduation and how they will be tested.
Under the old rules, special education children faced the same standardized exams as others, which critics said posed a huge impediment to those students earning a traditional high school diploma.
Only one in three special education students graduated from high school in 2013, which is one of the lowest rates in the nation, according to state figures released on Wednesday.
That rate is projected to rise to 55 percent in 2018.
The law was supposed to address that issue.
However, it has sparked worries about lawsuits from angry parents and possible cuts in federal aid for possibly running afoul of four federal laws.
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