07 Jul Parents, Advocates say Special Ed. Has Holes

July 7, 2016

By: Drew Petrimoulx

Source: arkansasmatters.com

In a meeting room at the State Capitol, parents told seemingly hopeless stories.

“She just cries, and no one can figure out why she’s crying,” Dollie Spencer said of her granddaughter.

They are the guardians of special needs children. Trilisa Marshall from Monticello came to tell the committee about her daughter.

“I had to fight, fight, fight,” Marshall said.

Marshall’s daughter suffers from a brain condition that slowed learning, but, she says, it took until the seventh grade to get her daughter help.

“They’re not doing what they’re supposed to do,” Marshall said of

During a Wednesday hearing at the Capitol, a panel of lawmakers and special education advocates were told state laws need to be updated to reflect federal standards on identifying special needs kids.

Student/teacher ratios ratios in special needs programs lag behind recommendations of the state’s own consultant.

“I think there are some significant problems in Arkansas right now in terms of how students are being identified in terms of special education,” said Debra Poulin, Legal Director for Disability Rights Arkansas.

Advocates and lawmakers say the focus placed on local control of school districts in Arkansas leads to varying levels of compliance with special education requirements across the state.

“I know districts are aware of the federal requirements, and they are trained on the federal requirements and that there are students being identified,” said Dep. of Education staff attorney Courtney Salas-Ford. “There’s probably always room for improvement.”

The committee is working on a final report on the state of special education in Arkansas. The chair plans to have about a half-dozen recommendations to be crafted into legislation for the session in January.

After Marshall’s daughter received the attention she needed, she began to succeed. She grew and became a teacher, but Marshall believes other special needs kids are falling through the cracks.

“I feel that they need to focus more on trying to get help for disability kids,” she said.

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