School board hears exceptional ed report

Published 9:57 pm Wednesday, January 31, 2007

There’s a lot more right with the education of handicapped students in the Picayune Municipal Separate School District than there is wrong, Exceptional Education Director Betsy Ramsdale told the Picayune school board last night, which crammed a lot of work into a meeting that lasted less than an hour.

Ramsdale said the auditors actually found a lot to praise in the district.

The most of the problems uncovered in an audit of the department by the Mississippi Department of Education were relatively minor, she told the board.

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The auditors came to the district to review how much time handicapped students spent in the “least restrictive environment,” language in state law and regulations that essentially means how much time did the students spend in regular classrooms as opposed to special education classrooms, Ramsdale said. The auditors found that Picayune’s disabled students ages 12 to 21 spent an average of 26.5 percent of their time in regular classrooms, while the state average is 18.2 percent. However, some problems were found in the amount of classroom time.

The auditors also found the district’s graduation rate with a regular diploma for disabled students of 75 percent to be impressive and that 75 percent of the disabled students took regular subject-area tests also praiseworthy, the exceptional education director said. She said the auditors were greatly impressed with the education taking place at the district’s Center of Alternative Education.

The areas of non-compliance the auditors found included incomplete Individual Education Plans and placement of students with disabilities was not based on students’ needs and IEP committee recommendation, Ramsdale said. Also, auditors said the amount of recreation time for handicapped students did not equal that of non-handicapped students. The auditors were not satisfied with plans for exceptional education students 16 and older in terms of assigning classes designed to help them transition from school to work, she said. The auditors also said supplementary aids and services, assistive technology, behavioral interventions and related services were not enought to meet handicapped students’ needs in regular classrooms.

Ramsdale presented the board with her plan for correcting the problems to the school board, which approved it. She said the plan also has to be approved by the education department, but that she has been told by numerous people that the first version of such plans typically aren’t approved, so she is calling her effort the “first submission.”

The board also heard a report on a bomb threat at the high school earlier in the day.

Board members, lead by Harvey Miller, praised the school’s staff for the speed and orderliness of the evacuation of the school to the district’s auditorium and praised the city’s police and fire departments and the district’s maintenance staff for the speed and thoroughness of the search of the school. Students were back in class within an hour-and-a-half, said interim superintendent Brent Harrell.

At the request of Julie Hall, student representative to the school board, the board and district administrators said they will see that students are informed more quickly about what is going on when an evacuation takes place. Hall said students were in the auditorium for about 45 minutes “before we knew what was going on.”

Miller and Harrell said a person suspected of making the bomb threat has been identified.

The board also removed a 60-acre block of property from a hunting lease request because it is inside the city limits. It is unlawful to discharge a firearm within city limits.

In other business, the board:

— Approved a timeline for establishing a budget for the 2007-2008 school year.

— Approved a series of donations, mostly to the district’s robotics program and including a grant of $2,000 from Miss. Power for the robotics effort.

— Approved the ballot for the Saturday, March 3, school board election for the seat held by Reese Moody, who is seeking re-election. Other candidates are Chad Frierson and Tony Smith.

— Approved applying for E-Rate funding.

— Approved an organization chart for Early Head Start.

— Approved consent items, including obsolete items, out-of-state travel requests and student transfer requests.

— Approved personnel matters.

— Went into executive session on discipline and personnel matters.