St. James special ed program improvements under way

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 7, 2010

By David Vitrano


LUTCHER – Special education students in St. James Parish will benefit from recent improvements made in the district, according to Vondra Steib, who heads the parish’s special education programs.

On-site monitoring of the program began in December 2008, when a number of areas of non-compliance were noted, Steib said during a report to the St. James School Board.

During visits, state monitors found a general lack of quantifiable progress of special education students as well as discrepancies between central office data and school site data relative to discipline procedures. They also found a general disconnect between the special education students and the rest of the class as well as between the special education teachers and their regular classroom counterparts.

A general lack of support systems for special education students also was found during that initial visit.

Because follow-up visits still found areas of non-compliance, the district was required to submit an Intensive Corrective Action Plan to the Louisiana Department of Education in May.

The plan, said Steib, addresses three main areas of non-compliance: failure to provide appropriate services to meet the needs of students with academic and behavior concerns; failure to provide services during disciplinary removals that would allow students to continue to participate in the general education curriculum; and failure to provide appropriate services to meet the needs of students with transition concerns.

Steib said the district has already mapped out three goals to address these concerns. These goals generally address the problems of special needs students as well as their teachers being correctly integrated into classrooms.

“Special ed is not an island,” said Steib. “A special ed child is a general ed child first.”

Steib noted that many of the measures have already begun to be implemented. For instance, special education teachers must go through an intensive, three-day training session and must plan for lessons with the general education teacher.

Steib said the district has done a good job of writing procedures but has sometimes fallen short in the monitoring process, and according to her presentation, failure of the district to comply with the guidelines may result in the district’s being identified as a high-risk grantee, which may result in the imposition of special conditions.

Despite the pressure, Steib remained upbeat about the situation.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” she said, adding, “We’re moving in the right direction.”