A consultant is reviewing the Reading School District's special-education department to try to find out why students are being shortchanged with services, school board members said.
Last month, the school board hired http://www.pdsd.org/18131011612910297/site/default.asp">Nancy Payton, a special-education consultant from Delaware County, to review how the special education department is structured and make recommendations to improve how teachers and administrators provide student services.
The number of parents who complain about their children's Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs — customized plans developed by teachers and a psychologist for each student — has increased dramatically over the last few years, said Karen McCree, a school board member who leads a committee on student services.
So has the number of pending lawsuits related to special education, she said.
More than 3,000 students are in special education.
The school district is clearly not doing its job in regard to educating special-needs children, McCree said.
"We are not in compliance. We do not service our special-needs children," McCree said. "We've got to clean this (department) up and we've got to get going to do it."
Before the 2008-09 school year, no complaints had been lodged against the district concerning special education, she said.
Since then, the district has settled 50 to 75 special-education cases out of court, she said.
McCree said she does not know the precise number because special-education administrators have not provided her with proper documentation.
"I've asked administrators over and over again for a complete list, but I have not received one," McCree said.
McCree said the complaints and lack of information from administrators were signs the special-education department was in trouble.
"I guess we knew this was going to happen at some point," McCree said. "If you don't fix the problem, parents get wiser."
School board member Isamac Torres-Figueroa said the district has spent well over $1 million in fees related to special-education litigation.
"This department has been bleeding for quite some time," Torres-Figueroa said.
Payton will receive about $3,000 for the study, which will be presented to the school board in a few weeks.
Many cases don't get as far as a due-process hearing because the complaints against the school district are legitimate and the district opts to settle the matter out of court, McCree said.
"It is always in the best interest for a school district to see due process to its end," McCree said. "But we don't because we are usually wrong."
Don't blame the teachers, McCree said.
"They are qualified but they are not trained," McCree said. "We have teachers without resources or guidance."
McCree said she is looking forward to Payton's recommendations but believes the restructuring process will take a long time.
"I think it will take years of work," McCree said.