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Testimony: District of Columbia Public Schools 2011 Oversight

Testifying before the Committee of the Whole, Children’s Law Center Executive Director Judith Sandalow urged DCPS to invest in building the capacity of proven special education programs before removing special needs students from nonpublic school placements.

District children who attend nonpublic schools do so because DCPS cannot meet their needs. They have complex and serious disabilities – including reading disabilities requiring intensive individual instruction, mental illness necessitating clinicians and small, quiet classrooms and developmental delays requiring instruction in basic life skills.

CLC shares DCPS’ goal of a future where the vast majority of the District’s children with special needs can receive a meaningful education within the public schools. However, removing students from nonpublic schools before DCPS has adequate resources in place would set children up for failure.

In the long run, the District would save money by serving children in local schools. But significant upfront investment is required before such savings can be realized. And, Sandalow cautioned that savings will not be as significant as some have projected because effective programs require funding.

To return children successfully to public schools, DCPS must place significant additional resources in classrooms, to include: more special education teachers, related service providers such as speech therapists, physical therapists and mental health clinicians, and special education administrative staff.

Sandalow suggested replicating or expanding successful programs such as Project Search, which provides job training to teenagers with intellectual disabilities. She encouraged DCPS to work with community partners to develop programs that address specific needs and to provide additional transition programs for older students who require job training.

To be successful in these efforts, Sandalow encouraged DCPS to build trust in the community by being more transparent about current programs and those being developed.

Read the full testimony here