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School district reviews practices

Two weeks after an estimated 80 concerned parents and teachers aired their grievances about the state of early elementary special services at a Kent School Board meeting, the district has responded.

District officials presented the board with the Inclusive Education Review, an assessment of the effectiveness of education practices relating to students with special needs, either linguistic or behavioral. The study, which has been ongoing for slightly more than a year, addresses some of the issues that parents and teachers raised at the meeting.

Two outside assessment agencies — The Urban Collaborative and the OSPI Integrated State Mentoring services — conducted the study and returned several recommendations to the board.

The review included an adjustment to the way IEP reviews are completed as well as two new programs for early grades to help manage students with developmental issues.

The IEP adjustments were streamlined more to fall in line with different student needs based on backgrounds.

According to Kendra Johnson, the district's chief academic and innovation officer,

some students qualify for IEP programs with communication disorders but don't speak English as a primary language.

"We need to rule out language needs before we determine a potential communication disorder," she said.

Restructuring the IEP guidelines would allow the district to be more accurate in identifying if a student is struggling because of a developmental issue or simply a cultural difference such as language.

Following the recommendations, the board will pursue hiring additional support staff for two programs, including the Primary Link Program and Primary Behavior Learning Support programs.

The programs are designed specifically for early elementary school behavior management with autism and emotional disturbances in students as a way to handle these students at an early age.

"It's a tricky area to navigate," said district spokesman Chris Loftis, "because sometimes you don't know how far developmentally kids are, what's abnormal behavior in kindergarten, first or second grades."

Loftis said that the district also will move forward to hire a counselor position. Each school principal will be able to decide among a behavioral health specialist, a counselor or an ELL specialist.

Loftis said the program's announcement reflects the fact that many times the school district is aware of internal issues but can't always say that they have concrete solutions in hand until they are ready to present them.

"This is not simply in response to parents and staff concerns expressed at a board meeting two or three weeks ago. We've been working on this for some time. The independent reviews happened last fall," Loftis said.

When discussing sensitive information with the public, Loftis said, it's difficult to talk in specific terms because the district and officials are bound by privacy laws. Other times, the district wants to address the public when a program is completed, Loftis said, rather than when the district is in the middle of a review process.

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