Virginia Special Education to be Watched by Federal Government

Virginia Special Education to be Watched by Federal Government

Virginia Special Education to be Watched by Federal Government

Nearly three years after the U.S. Department of Education said it would monitor Virginia public schools over concerns about special education, it informed state officials that oversight will continue — and that it’s added new concerns to the list.

The federal department’s Office of Special Education Programs told Jillian Balow, at the time the commonwealth’s superintendent of public instruction, in a letter dated February 17 that while Virginia had addressed some issues detailed in the June 2020 federal report, other concerns remained.

After “review of the submitted documentation, continued contacts from Virginia parents and advocates, and other sources of information,” the department has “significant new or continued areas of concern,” the letter said.

The letter was made public by the group Special Education Action.

Valerie Williams, of the federal Office of Special Education Programs, told Balow that the office would “initiate additional monitoring activities.”

The areas of new concern include the quality of services provided at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Office of Civil Rights found last November that Fairfax County, the state’s largest school system, failed to provide a free, appropriate public education to special education students. Williams said in the letter that since Fairfax County’s policies were based “at least partially” on guidance from the state Department of Education, her office “will examine this matter.”

Other remaining and new areas of concern include “the implementation of general supervision, dispute resolution, and confidentiality requirements” under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Conditions on aid possible

Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle told the Virginia Mercury that the “VDOE continues to work with our federal partners to ensure Virginia’s compliance with all federal requirements, as we have since the ‘Differentiated Monitoring and Support Report’ was issued in June 2020.”

In a letter to Balow from January, also made public by Special Education Action, Williams said that if the state doesn’t show compliance with IDEA requirements, the federal government could impose conditions on the grant money Virginia receives for special education and early intervention.

Balow resigned March 1.

New state superintendent named

On Wednesday, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced that Lisa Coons would be the state’s new superintendent.

Coons, who starts April 17, is Tennessee’s chief academic officer.

Joining her will be Goochland County Superintendent Jeremy Raley who was named the Virginia Department of Education’s new chief of staff.

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