School Superintendents Are Accountable for Special Ed Compliance

by James C. Sherlock – Updated 23 Dec. with division-by-subject table of bad SOL results for students with disabilities.

Old School House Photo by Steve McKinzie

I just finished reading the December 14 JLARC Report. “K–12 Special Education in Virginia 2020.”

The report is highly critical of public school special education in Virginia, but it misses the mark on its findings as well as its recommendations.  

The major problem with the findings is that the report does not specify which school districts do a good job in special education and which districts do a poor job.  

The major problem with the recommendations is that the bulk of them recommend new regulations by the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) and additional oversight by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). The current regulations, especially federal regulations that come with the federal money for special education, are quite specific. And not uniformly followed.

As big a critic as I have been of VBOE and VDOE — they need to do better — but the biggest culprits are the superintendents of Virginia’s school districts. Those men and women are highly educated and experienced in the requirements of their jobs and highly paid to execute them. 

If they are not complying with special education requirements, it is not because they do not understand them. Any superintendent that thinks special education doesn’t need their special attention is unsuited for the position. 

Any superintendent that doesn’t have the resources to comply or for any other reason has failed to comply with special ed requirements and has failed to report that fact to both her school board and VDOE should be fired.

The JLARC report had the opportunity to provide the data on the both the excelling and failing districts, but did not. So citizens do not know from the report where their own districts stand.

Some things never change, however. Under the headline, “Devastating’ new report finds major problems with special education in Virginia,” Kate Masters reported in The Virginia Mercury:

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, who serves as the legislative vice chair of the commission, described the report as “devastating.”

“We have had for the last four years an administration in Washington that has been very laissez-faire when it comes to enforcing various education laws,” she said. “And I think that’s going to change rather quickly and dramatically in the coming months.

“So, I sense a real urgency for us,” she continued. “The last thing we need is a federal lawsuit.”

To Howell, then, Donald Trump’s Department of Education stands accused of providing federal funding for special education but failing to independently assess proper use of it by each Virginia school.

And failing to sue to get its money back when it determined Virginia wasn’t using it properly.

If Howell is capable of embarrassment, now would be the time.

But I digress.

JLARC and VDOE between them have the data that show in which districts the failures have occurred and are occurring today. They must publish that data.  

For many school boards, it will be the first time they have seen it.

For school districts with less than a third of students with disabilities passing SOLs in 2018-2019, see the table below.  Again, that is just SOLs, but it is a place to start.  The JLARC report gathered information that would add color to the SOL data.  We need that information.


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51 responses to “School Superintendents Are Accountable for Special Ed Compliance

  1. “School Superintendents Are Accountable for Special Ed Compliance”

    Yes, but is anyone actually going to hold them accountable?

  2. Special Ed is pretty expensive and I’m not sure the Feds actually provide that much funding, nor the State. I think a lot of it falls on the local taxpayers.

    NOW, if there actually is ENOUGH money but the School Superintendents are not spending it effectively – then what would local School Boards do?

    Can’t this also be called an “equity” issue?

    If the majority of well-educated/good income parents are happy with a school system – they’re not likely to fire a Superintendent with this issue but rather put pressure on him/her to address it and do better.

    Interesting that JLARC chose to not list the schools and their scores.

    • Yes, it is absolutely an equity issue if you read the report to which I provided a link.

      The lack of school district level detail in the report is not just interesting, but purposefully weak.

      • And I totally AGREE with you on that. I suspect some of that info can
        be ferreted out of the build-a-table , right?

        And I’m better the poorer schools districts will do worse.

        I’m told in my county that special ed kids cost 30K and more per kid.

    • Does this mean you agree that Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, was wrong to blame Donald Trump for the failures of local schools?

      • What the Feds did, long before Trump was require states to test and provide the results of those tests. Prior to that there was no such requirement and many States did not or did little.

        When Trump got into office, he put Devos in charge of Ed and her thing mainly was to figure out how to give tax money to private schools and I never heard anything about holding those schools accountable.

        So I never heard what Howell said so can’t really agree or disagree but relieved that Trump/DeVos did not totally screw things up in Ed.

  3. As luck would have it, am discussing this with one of my teacher friends and one of the core issues is that there is a shortage of special needs teachers and they fill in with unqualified subs.

    Also, special needs deals with a wide variety of issues of which learning disabled is the biggest category and learning disabled are often “mainstreamed” but sent out to get special help – from a qualified person if available.

    Special Needs teachers may not get paid any more than regular teachers unless they have a Masters Degree or higher and the perverse thing is that even if a teacher has a Masters in something like Learning Disabled, they can choose to teach regular classroom and not be a special needs teacher.

    Special Needs teachers also apparently do not report to the principle but instead to an administrator in the district school office.

    I could not find out for sure if the State treats Special Need teachers as SOQ positions. The Feds DO fund some of the costs.

    • The SOL data can be gleaned from build-a-table, but it won’t provide the info on teacher quals, quality of IEPs, or even whether all special need kids have been identified. That is up to the superintendents. Teacher quals and parent complaints can be tracked by VDOE if they wish to set up a system to do that to supplement SOLs. The state does use a SOL-based system to identify failing schools, but the report indicates it did not pick up this problem we’ll enough. I still contend that superintendents are responsible. Accountability is the key. If one of them is relieved for cause by the school board or the state for this, the other offenders will perk up and flood the school boards and state with reports.

    • “…the perverse thing is that even if a teacher has a Masters in something like Learning Disabled, they can choose to teach regular classroom and not be a special needs teacher.”

      In what way is that perverse? Do you not support freedom of choice vis-a-vis employement?

      • if she or he obtained that knowledge by school funding professional development. If they got it on then own, then no.

        • Advocating indentured servitude is not very progressive of you, Larry.

          In fact, it’s not even conservative – it’s downright medieval.

          • You mean it’s “indentured servictude” if the school system agrees to pay for your education if you agree to use that gained education in their school system?


          • Well, yeah. It’s the very definition of indentured servitude. ‘Somebody’ pays a person’s way for something and in return that person is required to work for ‘Somebody’ for a specified period of time. I don’t understand how any person who even remotely leans “progressive” could support such a draconian system…

            And by the way, as per usual, you did not answer my question.

            You wrote: “…the perverse thing is that even if a teacher has a Masters in something like Learning Disabled, they can choose to teach regular classroom and not be a special needs teacher.”

            I asked: In what way is that perverse?

            Please answer the question.

          • It’s perverse when an employer pays for additional education and the employee chooses not to use that education in their employ.

            Most employers pay for education that not only helps the employee but the company. That’s perverse IMHO.

            Do you think that paying for a Doctors education loans in exchange for working in a rural area for some period of time – “indentured servitude”. That kind of reasoning sounds perverse, no?

          • “It’s perverse when an employer pays for additional education and the employee chooses not to use that education in their employ.”

            Classic Larry – You’ve moved the goal post.

            In your initial post you made NO MENTION WHATSOEVER of how your “perverse” teacher obtained his/her credentials. You simply stated that it was “perverse” that teachers with special education credentials would choose to teach in regular classrooms.

          • “Do you think that paying for a Doctors education loans in exchange for working in a rural area for some period of time – “indentured servitude”. That kind of reasoning sounds perverse, no?”

            You can pretty it up any way you want but at it’s bare essentials it fits the description of indentured servitude.

            Don’t worry, though, I was just yanking your chain with my “progressive” and “medieval” remarks vis-avis indentured servitude. If people want to sign a portion of their lives away in exchange for an education that is their business. I do wish people would call it what it is, though. Why sugarcoat it?

            And once again, Larry – you made NO mention of the funding sources for teachers’ credential in your initial comment about teachers being “perverse” for choosing not to utilize their special education credentials.

          • I really do “feel” for your needs Wayne!


          • Larry,

            Teachers pay is determined of the level of schooling they’ve achieved and the level of pay scale (time in service) to which they are located.

            It has nothing to do with the subject mater that they are qualified to teach.

        • Geeze, Wayne, you seem to have a neverending “need” to amuse yourself guy. Boring life? Unhappy? Need help?

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Superintendents with limited means set a high bar for identifying students who need the services. The remedy is parents hiring lawyers. Get enough lawsuits going and things can change. Individualized education plans are often sketchy and do not provide the best services to students. They are often crafted to placate problem parents.

    • See my note to Larry above. One Superintendent get fired for improper management of special Ed, and the rest will give it their full attention. If they document and report shortfalls in resources, then it is the responsibility of the school board and the state.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Elected school boards lack the institutional knowledge to fully understand the complex standards and laws governing special education. Parents are even more bewildered at an IEP meeting. The system is rigged to serve the machinations of a soulless bureaucracy.

        • “The system is rigged to serve the machinations of a soulless bureaucracy.”

          You can’t show that a particular cog in the machine is dis-functional, or perhaps even unnecessary, if you can’t figure out how the machine is supposed to work and exactly what the cog is supposed to do.

      • The problem is that Students with Disabilities (SWDs) only make up about 12% of the student population in Virginia. Many of our parents of SWDs had a rough time in school themselves, and may not have the best ideas of what their kids need. Therefore, in many places, the special ed program is not a 3 foot high flame licking at the school board members’ hind ends. Now, keep a loosing football coach on the payroll, and that’s a different story.

  5. How many years ago was it that Schools did not even have to educate some special needs kids much less be held accountable?

    And for those who say Charter, Voucher, Private schools are better than public schools, do we think that also for special needs?

    Sherlock talks about firing which is a fairly standard answer from Conservtives but most localities won’t fire a Superintendent when the larger school district is doing well and special needs is one problem area.

    I do not think VDOE has the right to fire anyone in local school systems anyhow.

    A few years back, (and perhaps still), there was a way for a school district to get a VDOE-assigned “take-over speciailst” for schools that had systemic problems.

    Special needs kids take specialists which takes dollars and though the Feds and State provide some funding, it’s not enough and the poorer localities are hard stretched to pay (or willing).

    There is not only a shortage of teachers, there is an even bigger shortage of special needs teachers and it basically boils down to money. People who have the academic credentials to teach special needs are also often well qualified for other jobs in the economy that don’t require the level of effort required to do a good job with special needs kids – not the least of which is dealing with the parents who, as James pointed out, often get lawyers and some teachers want no part on being on the receiving end of that especially if the principle is known to scapegoat.

    • 1990s. But that’s ancient history here.

    • “Sherlock talks about firing which is a fairly standard answer from Conservatives”. It is called accountability, and it works.

      Firing a school district superintendent for failing to do her job is accountability. Without it, why do we pass laws and regulations that govern education. The JLARC report wants even more regulations. What is the point if they can be safely ignored or finessed?

      Even the left seeks accountability – see culture, cancel. That is for violation of woke religious tenets, not failing to do one’s job.

      Let’s talk school administration.

      Instead of inventing new things that teachers must do other than teach, grade schoolwork, plan to teach and train to teach, why don’t the hugely expensive district administrations actually do better administrative work? Eliminate the after school committees? Visit schools every day to know what is going on rather than management by inbox? (Some do, some don’t) Serve as a pressure relief valve by meeting with parents in a call in session every few weeks? Invite school board members to those sessions? Kill the antiracism plague?

      It has been ruled unconstitutional in Virginia for the state to take over schools and districts, so we must make them work.

      Greatly easing the restrictions on charter schools would put positive pressure on schools and districts to improve. But I dream.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Firing a superintendent is a difficult thing to do. Unless they do something such as jailed for a dui, it is tough to do anything. Williams in Loudoun is a great example. He moved on not because of the school board but because of unrelenting pressure from parents.

        • When a school system needs to hire a new superintendent, it’s not easy and some systems have to do nationwide searches.

          And the candidates almost never are perfect in all regards. It becomes a game of find the “right match”.

          “Accountability” is not about firing people who are good at many things but not so good at one or two.

      • From a practical perspective – a Superintendent that does 23 of 25 things very, very well and most parents and SB are happy with him/her.

        But 2 things are abysmal and one is special needs.

        You can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

  6. I added an SOL division-by-subject table showing school districts with less than a third of students with disabilities passing SOLs in 2018-2019. Again, that is just SOLs, it doesn’t provide the other data necessary to make a judgment like numbers of disabled students relative to student body size, teacher training and IEP quality, but it is a place to start. Those data can be viewed by school as well as by school district, but it is an enormous table.

    • We also may want to define what “special needs” actually means. I’m told that maybe half of such designated kids are “learning disabled” – as opposed to having physical or emotional or similar such disabilities.

      • Baconator with extra cheese

        It appears you are impling we should separate some kids out becuse they don’t deserve an effective eduction or are they not capable of receiving an effective education?
        I would remind you Secretary Woke is looking for Equal Outcomes… so they better find a way to effectively educate all kids… especially the darker hued variety regardless of needs, special or not.
        And if Equal Outcome is the standard I say we all go every School Board meeting and hold every woke superintendent to that impossible standard they seemingly accept until we break them all. I propose calling every superintendent racist or sexist or classist if they fail at getting any category of Equal Outcome.
        Lay with dogs and get fleas….

        • Actually, it works the other way. If a kid is okay on some things and has issues with some, they try to identify those issues and get them help.

          That’s one of the big purposes of Title 1 and writing individual plans.

          If you put a kid with a learning problem in a class of kids who do not have that issue – and just leave him/her there – they often will fall further and further behind.

          That’s where the concept of “special needs” came from – to find the kids with needs and help them so they can get the most education that they have potential for.

          It’s not about equal outcomes – it’s about achieving your potential.

        • Leave Larry alone, this is step one in the liberal master plan, culminating in a 21st century Aktion T4 process. Of course you and I will likely be deemed incurably sick and subject to the program so maybe we do have some skin in Larry’s game.

          • Do I have to leave Larry alone, too?

          • I’m sure we are all on Larry’s master list which is uploaded nightly to Woke HQ and updated by Karen.

          • Baconator with extra cheese

            Thanks Mom… you’re like the mother I never had!
            (Mine abandoned me by the way and left me ED…)

            But I am looking forward to the day Woke IQ shows up to get me at my hacienda… Jim Croce will rise from the dead to write a song about it.

  7. Of course not but I fear I am treading on Sherlocks “too many comments” guidelines and gawd knows, I don’t need another demerit.

  8. I was a special education teacher early in my career. I must have not been a very good one, because they moved me into administration. However, the thing that I learned then and since, from the federal and state perspective it’s more about paperwork than student outcomes. Most of our SPED administrators’ time is consumed with compliance of state and federal regulations. Unfortunately, that leaves precious little time to worry about helping those kids become more proficient and learn how to overcome their disabilities.

    There is significant money tied up in federal SPED funding, and it represents a good portion of the money divisions get to operate their SPED programs. This funding stream began with the Individuals with Disabilities Act back in 1975 (four years before the advent of the US Department of Education). Of course, since that time, folks have gotten in trouble with the feds for how they have spent their money, and because of that, and other regulation, keeping up with compliance is an overwhelming task. If you don’t believe me, ask any SPED administrator.

    Another problem with all of the regulations is that they don’t necessarily produce the best outcomes. Just because certain timelines are met, and the correct paperwork is completed in the specified manner does not mean that students are achieving at acceptable rates.

    Yet another problem with these regulations are that, while ostensibly based on law passed by Congress, they are crafted by unelected bureaucrats. This can be problematic as they can certainly go far afield of what the elected legislators had intended. For example, how many of our senators and congressmen actually read the entirety of each bill (case in point- the latest 5000 page omnibus bill presented only hours before the vote)? After the vote, then the federal bureaucrats are tasked with creating the regulations associated with the law. While these folks have no doubt very good intentions, not all ideologies produce the best outcomes. There is little oversight into this process, so they can pretty much do what they want, so long as they can stretch a rationalization far enough to coincide with the language in the law. From there, the federal regulations are handed down to the state, and the state develops it’s own regulations to be in compliance with the federal regulations.

    Therefore, if you consider all of this, how can we expect positive outcomes?

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Amen brother Hurt. Paperwork and the bean counters were priority one with a sped student. I remember in Loudoun a meeting to determine a students eligibility for a individualized education plan had more administrators than the Salt One Talks. Parent and kid versus vice principal of sped, director of sped, sped department chair, regular Ed teacher, and if needed division sped director. Mom and dad never had a chance. Often times an IEP was crafted and signed and utterly worthless. I always volunteered for those meetings to give mom and dad a chance at getting something that might work for the kid. The key to the sped riddle is finding practical accommodations that lead to the kid standing on their two feet. I had a good track record.

  9. 1. The SALT One Talks only had four negotiators per side. Then there was the administrative staff who didn’t sit at the table.

    2. At the beginning of this thread, Larry and Jim actually both stumbled into the truth.

    “Special Ed is pretty expensive and I’m not sure the Feds actually provide that much funding, nor the State. I think a lot of it falls on the local taxpayers.”
    Excellent Larry, and therein lies the problem, which is compounded by the abject stupidity of the public school systems, particularly in the inner city, where a large number of IEP’s are demanded by parents fed up with the lack of their offspring’s progress (“Can’t do multiplication by 5th grade, there MUST be a learning disability”, a close analog to the prevalence of SSI where no disability exists)

    Then take the opposite end of the spectrum, when parents demand “exceptional” ed (“in addition to being good looking, my kid is well above average. In fact, he/she is ‘GIFTED'”), also a legal requirement practically never observed by school systems. The potential drain on a local school system’s funds is simply not sustainable. That potential is never reached, because of all the supposedly nefarious reasons discussed above. If school systems actually complied with the law, they’d be broke. Somebody mentioned $30,000 per pupil? Hah! That’s an underestimate.

    After the initial truths revealed by both Jim and Larry, the discussion devolved, as it usually does in any discussion with Larry, with people throwing crap at each other.

    3. Parents don’t do well in IEP meetings because they are not entitled to attorney fees at that stage of the proceedings. On their own, they must hire very specialized attorneys for those meetings in order to have any impact. I can promise you this does not happen in the inner city, nor in most communities. Any parent with the wherewithal to hire one of these attorneys doesn’t usually bother. They pull their kid and send him to a private school that actually knows what it’s doing. If they stay with the public school system because they have a large arthropod in their posterior about the necessity of maintaining the public school system, they can count on long and rancorous meetings, particularly where they involve parents who are capable of doing their homework in preparation.

    4. The very first SCOTUS case, a 9-0 opinion in 1993 for the plaintiff parents, was brought by a Virginia attorney who still practices, though he has long since decamped from Richmond to Deltaville. In spite of his own considerable learning disabilities, he argued the case to SCOTUS and got the decision a month later . After that, there was so much demand for his services around the country that he created a web page with tons of information. He simply could not answer all the inquiries. Good luck hiring him to take your case, and most lawyers can’t get paid enough to specialize in the area and make a living, unless they represent school districts.

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