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    Update on Special Education Services Delivery
    Posted on 12/10/2014

    Dear Seattle Public Schools families,

    This is an update on our effort to improve delivery of special education services to our students and families. As a district, we have a focus on closing the opportunity gap and ensuring equity for all of our students. Our students with special needs are an important part of this effort and deserve the very best we can offer.

    This update focuses on four major issues in Special Education: our error in releasing student records, our state and federal compliance work, efforts to improve services and communications, and our departmental leadership.

    In an effort to better serve parents, we have added a Special Education Ombudsman, Margo Siegenthaler, masiegenthaler@seattleschools.org, and Kari Hanson, Interim Director School Based Special Education Services, 206 252-0058, to improve communication with schools and parents.

    Records: We reported earlier that our outside law firm had released special education information to one family in error. Those records have now been recovered and were not given to anyone else. We deeply regret this records breach and have terminated all work with the law firm that released those records. Finally, we are investigating what happened, along with our policies and practices, to prevent future errors. We will issue a report after our analysis is completed.

    Compliance: Our special education program is under federal watch and being monitored intensively. $3 million is being held pending our meeting very rigorous and specific deadlines. This issue is one of our board’s top four priorities. I meet personally with special education leadership for weekly updates. This is serious work. The special education leadership team has been working since August to make immediate corrective actions to meet compliance and improve special education services to students. Some of these improvements include:

    • Creating clear, user friendly procedures to guide in delivering special education services.
    • Working with Technology, Transportation, and other departments to assist all district systems in working together toward improved data compliance and service delivery.
    •  Improving our IEP (Individual Education Plan) reporting (now 97% efficient) and our data reporting.

    Communications and Services: Our compliance work is taking considerable time and resources. In an effort to provide improved services to schools and families, we have:

    • Added a Special Education Ombudsman to support greater community engagement, broad and informative communication, and responsive customer service.
    • Added an Interim Director of School Based Special Education Services. This position was created to support the needs of students and improve our responsiveness to schools, parents and guardians. One of our goals is to ensure consistency and equity of services across our schools and district.
    • We have met recently with SpEd PTA, SEACC, and R-CCAP advisory groups. Our work to collaborate and partner on special education issues is critical to improving special education services and our students’ success.

    Leadership: Stabilizing leadership at every level within the department is another expectation from our outside monitors. We have experienced turnover in the Executive Director position every year for far too long. Without stable leadership, we cannot improve our ability to effectively support students, staff and families. Zakiyyah McWilliams has resigned from the district for personal reasons. Wyeth Jessee has been transferred to the position of Executive Director for Special Education for Seattle Public Schools.

    Wyeth has served in this position as Interim Executive Director since mid-August. Wyeth brings strong special education experience to the position with previous work in Olympia School District and the University of Washington’s Special Education Department. Wyeth also brings to this role eight years of experience in Seattle and a commitment to provide the continuity and stability we need. I have been pleased to see Wyeth and the special education team make progress on the difficult compliance work that we must address.

    The Special Education leadership team also includes: Director of Special Education Michaela Clancy; Interim Director of School Based Special Education Services Kari Hanson; and eight special education supervisors. We are grateful for this team’s willingness to accept the day-to-day challenges associated with improving Special Education services for our students, and they are helping us make progress on our compliance work.

    The challenges in Special Education existed long before these individuals stepped into their roles. Together, with your feedback and support, I expect to see a significant improvement in the delivery of special education services to our students and families.

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Larry Nyland
    Interim Superintendent