The first step in resolving a problem is recognizing the problem exists.
The Killeen Independent School District has a problem with its Special Education Department, and the board of trustees and the district’s superintendent may be coming to grips with that reality.
Last week, a public hearing by the school board drew a standing-room-only crowd, many of whom were in attendance to air their concerns with the special education program, which has been under scrutiny of late.
Among those who spoke was Rick Beaulé, president of the Killeen Educators Association, who asked the board to provide a detailed report on what the board is doing to address issues within the program.
Many of those issues have been documented in the Herald, beginning with a Texas Education Agency report, presented to the board in July, detailing the district’s noncompliance in the area of testing for special education services over a seven-year period.
The TEA report served as the basis for an investigative series by the Herald, in which several local parents and educators cited troubling shortcomings in other areas of special education. Those included accommodations for special-needs students and resources for teachers and aides, as well as incidents of alleged abuse.
Still, even after four installments of the series, district administrators and some school board members were downplaying the reported incidents as “isolated,” and insisting the district doesn’t have a problem with the department.
Many KEA members apparently feel otherwise. At last week’s public hearing, Beaulé shared the results of a survey in which 90 percent of respondents said they had a moderate to high level of concern about the special education issues that have been raised by the TEA and the media.
It’s possible that some of the incidents reported may have been isolated. Still, the district’s unwillingness to make administrators available for interviews or to provide supporting data have made it difficult to put the problems in proper context — and that is a disservice to the district’s parents, students and taxpayers.
With that in mind, the district’s administration and school board would be well-served to get out in front of the issue and address the subject honestly and forthrightly — and not just issue prepared statements. Adopting a strategy of hunkering down and waiting for the bad publicity to blow over is both insensitive and ineffective in the long term.
It’s imperative that the district take a hard look at its special education program, beyond the action plan for testing instituted after the TEA investigation.
A board committee is awaiting the results of an internal audit of the program, conducted by an Austin consulting firm. The audit — part of a five-part, $1 million evaluation of various district departments — is due in October. Many board members are waiting for those results before committing to changes in the program, but a commitment must be made.
The board also must commit to sharing all the information contained in the audit with the public — and not just the findings that reflect well on the district.
No matter what the audit uncovers, it’s time for the board and administration to engage in a dialogue on the challenges of special education.
In a statement Friday, Superintendent John Craft said the district is open to “constructive conversations” that will assist in efforts to improve education.
Such an opportunity will take place at 6 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, when the Herald co-sponsors a Special Education Forum for parents, educators and other concerned district residents. The event, to which Killeen ISD administrators and board members are invited, is designed to give attendees the chance to share their concerns, hear from experts on the subject and ask questions.
If recognizing a problem is the first step toward resolution, the second step is addressing it.
It’s well past time to take the next step.