School cited for lapse in special education plan

Published 9:00 pm Thursday, November 15, 2012

A recent investigation into special education at Enterprise Attendance Center uncovered some problems that Lincoln County School District officials say have since been corrected in an effort toward improving the quality of education for all students.

     The state Board of Education found the school was not properly administering an Individual Educational Program (IEP) for one student, Callie Cole, after her mother, Frances Cole, requested the state to look into the matter.

     The school district has since complied with all requirements made by the state in its report, said LCSD Superintendent Terry Brister.

     Callie Cole was seriously injured in a car accident in 2009 on the way home from a softball game while a student at Brookhaven Academy. Injuries sustained from the accident resulted in her having brain damage and being in a wheelchair.

     Due to the lack of special education programs at private schools, the Coles decided to send Callie back to Enterprise Attendance Center, where she attended before transferring to Brookhaven Academy.

     Frances Cole wanted the school to revisit her daughter’s IEP after Callie Cole certificate of participation in May. A certificate of participation signifies the end of formal education for special education students.

     LCSD Special Education Program Director Letha Presley said an IEP is set up for every special education student. It sets up individualized short-term and long-term goals for the student based on needs.

     A report from the state explained the district must reconvene an IEP meeting to revise Cole’s IEP. It went on to say the district must ensure it addresses all components of state requirements and properly train IEP committee members regarding the appropriate development of IEPs for children with disabilities.

     During her time at Enterprise, Callie Cole’s family bought her a computer that helps her communicate with others, as the injuries sustained in the accident made it difficult for Callie Cole to speak. Frances Cole said school officials should have given Callie additional help learning how to use her communication device, but did not.

     “Callie never received the tutorials on her computer she uses to communicate from the school,” said Frances Cole. “The school should have done that.”

     After the state visited the school and listed its requirements for the schools to get in compliance, the Coles met with school officials to make adjustments to Callie’s IEP. Frances Cole said the school system agreed to continue to help Callie with therapy until she’s 21, as state law requires.

     Brister described the violations as isolated and said the district has since made all the necessary corrections.

     “It’s something we have accommodated and fulfilled as a district,” he said of the state’s requests. “We have taken all the recommendations to make sure we comply.”

     Brister went on to say the district looks at special education as an important part of education and aims to comply with all state and federal requirements.

     “We take all state and federal laws seriously to make sure all of our students are served,” he said.

     Presley said overall she is very pleased with the performance of her teachers.

     “I think my teachers do a wonderful job,” she said. “We’re using the report as a positive to improve our services for the students. That’s what we’re doing.”

     Frances Cole said her goal is to improve special education for all students in Lincoln County. She said children’s parents are the only advocates they have.

     “I did a great deal of research into special education and what the schools should do,” she said. “People with questions now come to me and ask me about how to get help for their child.”

     Frances Cole said she does not want to cause harm to the schools or their image.

     “We can use this as a positive thing,” she said. “I want to do something positive for the schools and not tear anything down.”

     Brister did agree that special education is something the school district can improve.

     “We’ve got to do a better job with everyone with an IEP, and we will,” he said.

     Callie is continuing to improve after the accident, with speech and physical therapy. Frances Cole said Callie remains able to hear and understand everything, but her vision and speech were weakened in the wreck.

     “She’s progressed tremendously since the accident,” said Frances Cole. “The Lord has been good through it all.”

     Presley said the LCSD currently serves 384 students in its special education program with 24 teachers.

     All four county schools have students with special needs. Presley said the students with the most significant needs attend either Enterprise or Loyd Star while developmentally delayed preschoolers attend West Lincoln. Those schools have specialized programs to serve the needs of those students.

     “What school they go to is based on needs and age,” she said. “Everything is based on the student’s needs. Every decision made is individualized.”