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Sunday, June 9, 2013 - Page updated at 04:00 p.m.

Editorial: Seattle Public Schools must reform special education


AFTER years of threats, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is out of patience with the Seattle Public Schools’ sorry track record on special education. Good.

The district should face serious consequences if it does not abandon its shrugging indifference to the state’s demand for improvement throughout its entire program. Special-education students deserve effective, high-quality and accessible services, just like other students.

The district has been warned and warned, specifically about delays in the evaluations that ensure all students who qualify for special-education services receive them. A leadership vacuum and rotating crop of administrators contributed to inconsistent quality in services from school to school. It also left few in the district to directly hold accountable.

The state’s issues with the district include failing to accurately count the 7,000 or so students who receive special-education services and to follow the individual education plans that guide services.

Parents lost patience long ago. Now OSPI is demanding improvements withina year and a half or the district could lose control of special-education funding or lose the money itself.

This is not just a bureaucratic tussle. Students and families need a system that is simple to navigate and consistent.

A top priority of the new executive director of special education, Zakiyyah McWilliams, should be providing that consistency. She plans to hire more psychologists and other specialists.

The School Board must demand a more informed, inclusive tone around special education. Board discussions about special-education services are frequently framed in terms of costs. But board members must take care not to make special education a scapegoat for broader budget woes.

Remember: Special-education students are general-education students. They do not forfeit their general-education funding because they are enrolled in special education.

The district is making slow progress. A defensive, adversarial tone is diminishing, notes Mary Griffin, incoming president of the Seattle Special Education PTSA. Better communication with parents is still needed. McWilliams vows she and her staff will be more visible in schools.

The district has its warning. Time to stop failing these students.