September 24, 2018 9:49:11 AM
Columbus Municipal School District will host a public meeting tonight to address improvements and ongoing concerns about its special education department (SPED) amid a state investigation.
The meeting, aimed to inform parents of SPED children and the general public, will begin at 6 p.m. at Brandon Central Services.
Last year, four CMSD parents filed complaints with the Mississippi Department of Education against the district's SPED program. Three of those dealt with individual students, while one parent filed a blanket complaint on behalf of all CMSD SPED students.
The complaints alleged, among other things, that CMSD SPED students weren't getting their required individualized education plans (IEPs) and services in a timely manner, if at all.
Cheryl Smith, who replaced Donna Jones as Special Education director in January, said she will be updating the public on where the department stands now after the MDE's review of CMSD.
In 2017, MDE began investigating a sample of 62 SPED students. In March, MDE found 95 percent of those students did not have appropriate IEPs -- which set individual educational goals for students and determines the services needed to obtain those goals -- meaning students were not getting the services they needed for their education.
Smith said she will address those compliance issues tonight, as MDE has responded to the first of the four formal complaints.
"The first formal state complaint that was filed, according to MDE it has been set aside and that one is closed," she said. "(That means) all areas that were found non-compliant, we have satisfied that and we are compliant on those areas."
Smith said MDE has yet to respond to the other three complaints but will speak more about the compliance issues during tonight's meeting. She added the department is moving forward and addressing the issues and concerns from previous years and administrations.
"It's very important, because the district is working to become compliant and to let parents know that we are here for their children and their education," Smith said. "While we are waiting for (MDE) we are working to stay compliant in everything that we do."
In addition to the compliance issues, Smith said she would explain special education as a whole.
"I'm going to address that we did have some non-compliance," Smith said. "We had some complaints and I'm going to address the one that has been cleared. I'm also going to address what the district is doing to remain compliant and what we're doing to meet the needs of all our special needs children."
Terri Doumit, the mother of a Columbus High School SPED student, voiced her concerns during numerous special meetings last year. Doumit said her son was not receiving the services he needed. In less than a year's time, Doumit has called the department a blessing to her son. With Smith as the director, Doumit said she noticed more thorough communication and her son receiving the services and care he needs to continue his education. "We had several meetings and several calls back and forth," Doumit said. "(Smith) really truly wants to make sure all the students are getting what they need with their IEPs. She's just very accessible. This year has been a blessing. It has started out with a sense of relief. I didn't have to worry. It's really started off on a really positive note. When you have teachers who are really motivated to help the children. Having the administration to support them in their efforts. We have both now and I'm thinking that will make a big a change."
CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat also credited Smith's leadership for SPED improvements since last year.
"We value all students, and she has worked very hard to make sure that we are meeting the needs of our students," Labat said.
IF YOU GO
■ WHAT: CMSD special meeting on status of special education department
■ WHERE: Brandon Central Services
■ WHEN: Tonight at 6 p.m.
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