Federal report faults Virginia Department of Education over special education oversight

Federal report faults Virginia Department of Education over special education oversight
James Monroe Building (Source: Virginia Mercury)

A new federal report finds systemic failures in how the Virginia Department of Education monitors and responds to special education complaints against local school districts.

VDOE is contesting several findings in the June 23 letter, sent to Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane by the U.S. Department of Education after a two-day site visit in late May 2019. But other experts framed it as a victory for the families and advocates of students with disabilities, who have spent years raising concerns over the state’s oversight process.

“None of this report is a surprise,” said Rachael Deane, director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren program. “In fact, I find it to be very vindicating of the voices of many parents and special education advocates over a number of years.”

The report centers on Virginia’s enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — better known as IDEA — a 1975 federal law that ensures a “free appropriate public education” to students with disabilities and guarantees special education services. The second part of the law tasks VDOE with supervising educational programs in the state and ensuring that local school divisions are meeting IDEA requirements.

“As the state educational agency, the buck really stops at VDOE,” Deane said. But the federal report, authored by DOE’s Office of Special Education Programs, found that the state agency consistently failed to supervise local school districts and establish adequate processes for addressing complaints.

DOE conducted site visits in Virginia after OSEP fielded an “unusually high number of customer service communications from parents, advocates, and other stakeholders” relating to the state’s process of resolving complaints against local school districts, according to the report. 

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