Education

Fate of Fayette County schools' special education task force is up in the air

The fate of a Fayette County schools' special education task force remains uncertain following a joint meeting Thursday night between the nearly 40-member panel and school board members.

The task force of parents, teachers, administrators, board members and agency representatives is expected to be reconfigured, halted or disbanded given that an audit of special education by a consultant is also planned.

The special meeting was called at the request of school board member Doug Barnett, who said recently that the task force had met since October 2014 and had made no recommendations.

The audit of special education services is part of new Superintendent Manny Caulk's entry plan, which he announced soon after taking the job in August. Caulk told the Herald-Leader last week he wanted to make sure that district staff was complying with students' individual education plans and that the 4,400 students receiving special education services are making progress.

Parents have recently said that the district is not meeting their children's needs.

The audit is set to look at many of the same issues that the task force is charged with addressing. Those include examining student achievement data, looking at best practices, and examining financial and staff resources.

On Thursday night, task force members expressed several concerns, including that the panel's charge was ambiguous and that parents didn't feel comfortable being candid at meetings.

Leisa Pickering, who represents the University of Kentucky Disability Resource Center on the task force, said committee members questioned whether they were meeting the original requests of the board.

Panel members said retirements and resignations of top administrators got the task force off track.

Thursday's meeting at Central Office was structured so that school board members only listened and did not comment during the meeting.

But afterward board member Daryl Love said, "It was a good opportunity to hear some of the concerns of some of the members of the task force, ways that we can look at the task force and its overall effectiveness."

With the help of a facilitator, members of the task force were asked to focus on two issues: What works well and what could be improved.

"We just need clarification on what the board wants to happen with the task force," Acting Director of Special Education Amanda Dennis said. "We are certainly open to whatever we have to do continuously to improve."

Love said he thought Caulk, who was not at Thursday's meeting, would make the ultimate decision on what should happen to the task force.

Parent Wendy Wheeler-Mullins said after the meeting she hoped the task force would be reconstituted, not eliminated. "I appreciate that we were listened to. I think it's important that parents have input into improving student achievement."

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