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Settlement Requires Ohio To Improve Special Education Plans

A plan to improve special education will be developed over the next year. [Ashton Marra / ideastream]
An empty preschool classroom

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) will have to improve education outcomes for students with disabilities, under  a settlement approved this week.

The settlement calls for improvements over the next five years. The agreement 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.

ODE will work with an advisory board to develop a plan in the first year, followed by implementation and adjustment and continuing improvements over the next four.

The planning process is already underway, said Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) Executive Director Kerstin Sjoberg. The advisory board will meet for the first time in April, she said. It consists of seven members, many of whom are from ODE. The board also will include two experts appointed by DRO, and one appointed by ODE.

“All three of them are basically experts from outside Ohio that have looked at Ohio’s data and have worked with first the plaintiffs, and the state, on developing the evidence that was involved in this case and that led to the development of this settlement,” Sjoberg said.

The plan for improvement will also be evaluated by the State Advisory Panel for Exceptional Children (SAPEC), and ODE will ultimately decide on and adopt the improvement plan.

“The goal would be that we would make meaningful progress in these five years, and that that progress would continue because that system was in place,” Sjoberg said.

If DRO doesn’t think progress is being made, Sjoberg said, they can work with the state to address it and, if necessary, seek a mediator.

The board will work directly with 11 districts noted in the lawsuit for significant issues in special education: Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Lima, East Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown and Zanesville.

DRO is still seeking students and parents in special education programs to discuss their experiences, Sjoberg said, particularly in those districts. Specific remedies will be developed for those areas within the broader statewide plan.

ODE supports the settlement and will work with the DRO to improve special education, Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria said in an email statement to ideastream.

“It certainly aligns with Each Child Our Future, Ohio’s strategic plan for education, which emphasizes our commitment to meeting the needs of the whole child,” DeMaria said. “We want to ensure that all Ohio students have the appropriate environments and supports to be successful, no matter what challenges they face.”