Equity is a term that we use a lot here in Decatur when we talk about policies, curriculum, and programs. I often see the terms ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ used interchangeably, and while the terms are similar, they have distinct differences. Equality is when everyone is offered the same thing, no matter what. Equity is when certain resources are distributed only to those who have a need for them. For example, prior to COVID-19, free and reduced lunches were only offered to the families who needed it as determined by income qualifications. The federal school nutrition program was equitable. Now that Federal funding for school nutrition programs has increased, all students are offered free breakfast and lunch. The Federal school nutrition program is now equal.
We all have equal rights to access the same education for our children. However, equity comes into play when the data reveals that certain populations of students don’t seem to have equal access to the same education as some of their peers. This is an undeniable pattern, namely for our children of color. There are various factors that could be involved, and uncovering the root cause of racial disparities in the outcomes of our students - and addressing them - is at the heart of the efforts of the Equity and Student Support office. As a school board member, I will remain committed to overseeing the progress this District is making to close the achievement gap, and ensure that all of our students benefit from the excellent educational experience our CSD faculty offers.
We can examine the available data to compare CSD to neighboring districts and national averages. Unfortunately, CSD faces some challenges in making its high quality educational experience accessible to atypical learners. This struggle has been present for some time.
I have heard anecdotal evidence from families in our community about how difficult it has been to get their child an Individualized Education Program (IEP), or accommodations under a 504 plan. We know that COVID-19 played a significant role in decreasing our enrollment numbers. What we don’t know is how much of that enrollment decrease is a result of parents seeking private education for students with special needs that couldn’t get the IEP or support services they felt their child needed.
The Department of Education tracks key metrics on every public school system. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percent of our student population with an IEP in the 2019-2020 school year was 8.6%. The national average of students with an IEP is 14%. By comparison, the range for metro Atlanta school districts is 9-13.69%. The chart below was compiled using the 2019-2020 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
While CSD has a wonderful reputation for its academic excellence and rigor, our District is also an outlier regarding the average number of students we serve with special learning needs. Between the comparison with surrounding school districts and the experiences of a significant number of CSD families, I believe it’s time to
investigate this matter to understand why CSD appears to serve special needs families at a lower rate than our neighboring districts.
As a board member, I will advocate for special needs families by requesting reporting and data on the special education process, which may include:
Interviewing all unenrolled families regarding their child’s specific learning needs
Surveying all parents about their experience requesting evaluations, accommodations, or additional supports
Reviewing CSD’s policies and protocols regarding MTSS, psycho-educational evaluations, IEPs, RTIs (response-to-intervention), requests for accommodations, and 504s
Ensuring that parents understand their education rights with regards to requesting evaluations and services
Tracking and monitoring the number of families requesting evaluations, how each case is adhering to federally mandated timelines, students referred to RTI or IEP and the length of time they have been at that service level.
Additionally, resources for special education play a huge factor in how well we can serve all of our atypical learners. Unfortunately, the budget has a limited allocation of funds geared toward special education and serving the current number of students with IEPs.
As a board member, I will fight for robust resources for special education, which will include:
A full-time psychologist on-site at each school.
Partnering with local school psychology graduate programs to provide qualified interns to help with the psycho-educational evaluation process
Additional certified staff to adequately serve IEPs in appropriate 1:1 settings
Additional special education paraprofessionals for in-classroom support
Professional learning and development for all teachers in understanding common atypical learning and behavior profiles including, but not limited to, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Attention Deficit Disorder.
Creating career pathways that will equip our atypical learners and special needs students to be successful in life after high school.
To fulfill CSD’s vision “for all children to be their best, achieve their dreams, and make the world a better place,” we need to resolve the challenges of equitable resources and educational experiences for ALL of our kids.