State finds Tupelo schools' special ed program lacking

By Sandi P. Beason

Daily Journal

TUPELO – A review of the Tupelo Public School District's special education program has determined the district is not meeting some state and federal requirements.

Superintendent Randy McCoy said the district needs to know how the Mississippi Department of Education Office of Special Education assessed the problems before it can respond.

“We're not trying to make excuses,” he said. “If we're doing this inappropriately, we do need to correct it. But we need guidance.”

During the school board's Tuesday meeting, Special Education Director Mary Ruth Wright presented the findings of a monitoring visit on Feb. 23-26. The district was selected for monitoring in the area of “disproportionality in the over-identification of Specific Learning Disability.”

The state report said the inspection found no evidence that the district met the following requirements:

- Conducting effective pre-referral interventions.

- Considering and addressing cultural differences or barriers, a lack of or different prior formal educational experiences, or whether there was adequate time to master skills.

- Evaluating or identifying students with disabilities in accordance with state and federal regulations.

“For us to adequately respond, we need to know some of these definitions,” McCoy said. “On these teacher support teams, which student files were pulled and reviewed? Where did these discrepancies occur?”

McCoy also asked at what depth the school psychologist was used in the administration of the review.

“We want to make sure all children are served that need to be served, period,” he said. “We don't want any children in special education who should not be there.”

The MDE/OSE said the Tupelo district is required to develop a corrective action plan for each of the systemic findings.

The report from the monitoring visit, conducted by Vivian Whitson, listed 991 students who were eligible for the review. Of those, 489 were identified as having specific learning disabilities.

“We need more information on how these elements are defined and use that to generate our response and any corrective action appropriate,” said Mike Clayborne, school board president.

Contact Sandi P. Beason at 678-1598 or sandi.pullen@djournal.com