State Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday his agency has sent out additional guidance on a new special education law aimed at easing worries that it will run afoul of federal laws.
“School systems can move ahead and know it is legal,” White said of the sweeping changes approved last year.
The measure that has sparked controversy for months is supposed to help some students with disabilities earn a traditional high school diploma.
However, numerous local educators say they are fearful that the new rules will spark sanctions from federal officials, and even the loss of federal funds.
White said state officials sent local educators new documents Tuesday night, and will host a webinar on Friday at 9:30 a.m., aimed at answering concerns that have muddled a law that was supposed to be in place at the start of the 2014-15 school year.
“The intent of this is to put to rest all of the policy discussions — state legislators, federal bureaucrats, local administrators, all weighing in on their perspective regarding policy,” White said.
“And the policy is complicated but the law is clear,” he said.
The latest documents sent to school districts outline diploma, accountability, assessment, curriculum and policy for students with disabilities, including those affected by the 2014 law.
A task force set up to oversee the law spent four hours last week grappling with problems surrounding the changes.
Critics accused White’s department of failing to provide local educators with crucial guidance, especially amid two letters from federal officials that raised questions about the overhaul.
Department officials countered that they have provided districts with detailed guidance for months.
The panel voted to set up a new panel to try to resolve problems.
The state has about 80,000 special education students.
Louisiana also has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation for special education students.
The overhaul allows teachers and parents who advise the students — Individualized Education Program teams, or IEPs — to spell out alternative paths to a high school diploma.
How to do that legally has triggered widespread angst.
White said the new documents make clear that, as long as the special education students take the same courses as others, how they are tested can vary depending on standards hammered out by the IEP teams.
“They can get a lower score on the end-of-course exam, or test that measures their learning in a different way to pass the course,” White said. “The IEP team has to come up with the appropriate test to graduate.”
The special education overhaul is on the agenda for a meeting at 9 a.m. on Thursday of the Superintendents’ Advisory Council, which includes about two dozen superintendents from around the state.
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