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Reporting on the state of education in your community and across the country.

Settlement Orders Ohio To Improve Education For Students With Disabilities

ODE will work with an advisory board to develop a plan to improve performance outcomes for students with disabilities. [Robert Elias / Shutterstock]
An empty hallway lined with teal lockers

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has five years to create and implement a plan providing more support and resources to students with disabilities. It's part of a  tentative settlement in a class action lawsuit with advocates for children with disabilities.

ODE will work with an advisory board to develop a plan to improve performance outcomes for students with disabilities. The settlement also calls for the state to provide additional support for special education services. The plan will focus on student literacy, prepare disabled students for life after graduation, and provide training for educators.

Kerstin Sjoberg is the assistant executive director for the nonprofit advocacy group Disability Rights Ohio (DRO). She said students with disabilities face more barriers in getting a quality education.

“While the whole state could make improvements, there were really significant problems in a number of districts including some of the larger urban districts like Cleveland,” she said, “with students being segregated, not in the general education classroom, not getting access to those general education topics, therefore not doing well on the testing or graduation requirements or all of those things.”

The plan will be developed in the next year and include specific remedies for 11 districts in particular: Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Lima, East Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown and Zanesville. It must be implemented within five years.

Sjoberg said that might not be enough time to fix the issues raised in the lawsuit, “but the pieces should be in place, we should have demonstrated that it is working, and it should continue to improve on its own in a sense.”

The state and DRO will evaluate the plan over the next five years through state-collected data of graduation rates and test scores. Sjoberg said if DRO doesn’t think progress is being made, they can work with the state to address it and, if necessary, seek a mediator. Districts will also be encouraged to create their own plans.

“Equity is a core principle of Ohio’s strategic plan for education. The settlement affirms the objective of meeting the needs of all children, no matter the challenges they face, with the goal of ensuring they are prepared and empowered for a fulfilling post-high school path,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria in a written statement.

Sjoberg said a previous lawsuit aimed to address the process of educating students with disabilities, including monitoring progress and evaluating complaints. She said changes were made to follow federal law and regulation when that lawsuit concluded in 2009.

“It’s an important piece and it will continue to happen the way the state has always done it, but we really want to make sure we’re focusing on, how do we make sure kids are actually learning to read?” Sjoberg said.

This settlement now aims to address student achievement.

A U.S. District Court preliminarily approved the settlement. A hearing to determine fairness and final approval is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2020.