Audit critical of BVSD’s special ed program

Jefferson Dodge | Boulder Weekly

A state audit has found the Boulder Valley School District’s special education program deficient in a dozen different areas.

Those close to the situation say the problems are being prompted, at least in part, by decreasing resources and recent changes that require already overworked educators to complete paperwork differently.

Indeed, many of the “systemic noncompliance and necessary corrective actions” identified in the Feb. 9 audit from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) are related to incomplete documentation. But even the BVSD’s special education director acknowledges that those paperwork gaps can reflect practice, so he says his department is taking the audit seriously and began addressing some of the concerns months ago.

The concerns identified in the audit include cases where there was a failure to obtain written parental consent before beginning special ed services, instances where a student’s limited English language skills were not considered when determining special ed eligibility, and areas where there was a lack of measurable data and goals about a child’s performance.

In other files examined by the CDE, the audit says, the district failed to use a variety of assessment tools as required, did not properly document individuals’ absence from meetings about the child’s education plan, and had gaps in transition services, which focus on helping the child move beyond school and on to other education, training, employment or independent living.

A prior independent audit of BVSD’s special ed program conducted in 2007 identified low teacher morale, in part because of new requirements from the federal and state government, understaffing, burdensome paperwork and limited opportunities for collaboration, according to media reports.

School board member Jennie Belval asked about the new audit at the board’s Feb. 28 meeting. She asked Superintendent Bruce Messinger for more information “sooner rather than later.” The board still has not been given a copy of the audit, although BVSD officials say they plan to present the findings, along with the district’s response, later this spring.

Belval tells Boulder Weekly that she has heard BVSD instructors, especially special ed teachers, say that it’s no longer “the profession they got into” because of all the paperwork and administrative demands.

“Their profession is under siege, and they’re blamed for things that are really not in their control,” Belval says, adding that while everyone is in favor of accountability, “they’d rather be spending less time on paperwork and more time with kids.”

Ron Yauchzee, who is in his first year as director of special education for BVSD, says he doesn’t write the audit off as simply paperwork problems. At a doctor’s office, for example, “the charts need to reflect the reality,” he says. “The paperwork can’t be separate.”

Still, Yauchzee says a lack of written parental consent, for instance, doesn’t mean special ed services were being initiated without parents’ knowledge; it was sometimes simply a question of the date on which forms were signed.

He acknowledges that his staff has “more and more accountability and fewer means, or people, to do it. … A lot is being asked of educators. … I’m sure they are all feeling stress from the change.”

Yauchzee says his department has begun gathering special ed teachers in teams to walk through new processes and ensure there is time for the various specialists to discuss each child’s needs.

In its report, the CDE does laud the BVSD’s special education program for a variety of strengths, and says the department has submitted requested corrections to files in a timely manner.

CDE officials say they review each district’s data annually, and an audit is triggered when there are significant areas of concern. The last state audit of BVSD’s special ed program was in 2002. Deb Montgomery, coordinator of the CDE’s continuous improvement monitoring process, says the number of areas tagged in the BVSD audit is within the range commonly seen in other audits.

She and Mary Greenwood, a monitoring supervisor in the CDE’s office of special education programs, declined to say which of the corrective actions identified in the BVSD audit are most serious.

They disagreed about whether special ed teachers are being asked to do more paperwork. Montgomery acknowledges that one child’s “individualized education program,” was 65 pages long.

But Greenwood counters, “I don’t know if it’s more paperwork. I think it’s more descriptive report-writing, though. … I do think we’re asking folks to do things differently, and talk to each other, so that we’re talking about the whole kid, not bits and pieces of the kid.”