Education

Highly rated Ky. school wasn’t addressing students’ special needs, investigation found.

Model Laboratory School in Richmond, which received high marks in the state’s new accountability system, has violated state regulations for special needs students on a variety of fronts, a recent Kentucky Department of Education investigation found.

Through the Kentucky Open Records Act, the Herald-Leader obtained a report outlining the problems.

The investigation was prompted by a middle school parent’s complaint that Model’s inadequate services for special needs students were systemic.

The investigation found that the school used inappropriate methods to evaluate and determine special education eligibility for the student, failed to develop an appropriate individual education plan and to provide all services specified in it. The investigation found problems with other students.

Model is not challenging the state’s findings and is working to “remedy the issues and comply with the corrective actions,” including offering compensatory education services to the child whose father complained, a state document said.

But Model officials are appealing the state education department’s conclusion that Model is a public school that cannot charge tuition to students with disabilities.

In its appeal, Model officials say that tuition is evenly applied to all students who elect to attend. Model has always operated as part of Eastern Kentucky University and gets funds from tuition, EKU and the Madison County school district, Model Superintendent John Williamson said previously.

Should the interpretation by the state be allowed to stand, the school maintains that the practical result will be that model will have to ask about a student’s disability upon admission and charge tuition for a nondisabled student but not a disabled one.

A state review of Model’s budgetary structure was prompted by the parent’s complaint, Williamson and Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis have confirmed. The budget review led to the state determination that Model — Kentucky’s only remaining K-12 university laboratory school — should not be getting state money from the Madison school district as of the 2020-2021 term.

For more than 30 years, Model Laboratory School, with an annual budget of $7.4 million, has operated as a public school partnership between Madison County Schools and Eastern Kentucky University.

Model gets $2.3 million annually in funding via Madison schools based on student attendance calculations.

Model also gets about $2.2 million in annual funding from EKU because EKU students get hands-on learning opportunities at Model, which has more than 700 students.

Model students pay tuition and fees — about $3,800 annually — for a total of $2.8 million to cover the remaining gap of per-pupil costs for instruction, facilities, programming and administrative support.

In the recent accountability results for 2018-19, Model’s High School received the new system’s top five-star rating, and its middle and elementary levels got four stars.

Williamson said Model Lab had been a top ten school year after year, and he was proud of students and teachers for the ratings. Disabled students, however, do not currently achieve at the levels of all students.

According to a Herald-Leader analysis, Model Lab middle school tested 19 kids with disabilities.

In math and reading, 26.3 percent of those students scored at the lowest novice level, 36.8 percent scored one level better, called apprentice, and 36.8 percent scored proficient or distinguished, the highest levels.

At the high school level at Model Lab, the scores for disabled kids weren’t broken out because only five disabled students tested in math and seven in reading.

At the elementary level, 15 were tested in math and reading. 53.3 percent tested novice in math, 26.7 percent tested apprentice in math; 20 percent tested proficient or distinguished math. In reading, 33.3 percent tested novice; 26.7 percent were apprentice and 40 percent proficient or distinguished.

Williamson said Thursday that the 13 percent of students who are special education students is the same as the state average, so Model is not under identifying students with special needs.

The complaint that state officials investigated was the first regarding special education that Model had received in years, Williamson said. Model had revised its special education policies, he said.

Williamson said that the education commissioner had not yet ruled on Model’s appeals. Williamson said he thought that decision would affect other school districts that allow children from outside districts — including children with special needs — to attend and pay tuition.

“I think it’s going to be a bigger issue than just us,” he said.

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