State to require APS to review special education policies

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen addresses the Atlanta Press Club in this file photo from Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. VANESSA McCRAY/vanessa.mccray@ajc.com
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen addresses the Atlanta Press Club in this file photo from Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. VANESSA McCRAY/vanessa.mccray@ajc.com

Atlanta Public Schools must review its special education policies after the state determined the district's black students are more likely to be identified as having intellectual disabilities and emotional and behavioral disorders.

The Georgia Department of Education sent a letter last month notifying the district of its determination based on data it reviews annually.

The state said APS has disproportionate risk associated with black students in two areas. Black students are 3.5 times as likely as all other APS student groups to be identified as having an intellectual disability. They are 3.82 times as likely to be identified with an emotional and behavioral disorder, according to the state.

“You want everyone to have the same risk,” said Zelphine Smith-Dixon, the state education department’s director of special education services and supports. “For kids, you want them to all have the same equal probability of being identified and getting a label.”

The state’s determination means APS must review and, if necessary, revise its policies and procedures and then report back to the state. A district spokesman said APS intends to submit that information by the end of the school year.

The state’s determination that APS has “disproportionate representation” is a lower level than a determination of “significant disproportionality,” which comes with a financial consequence.

Asked for comment, APS referred to remarks made by Superintendent Meria Carstarphen at a board meeting earlier this month.

She said the district's special education department is working to support school staff as they implement procedures to "prevent disproportionality."

“Additional strategies led by the department include thorough reviews of eligibility reports for students to ensure identification is appropriate, monitoring discipline processes, and providing behavior/mental health services and supports,” Carstarphen said.

In Other News