Kansas State Department of Education looking into complaint about SMSD’s administration of special education programs

The complaint suggests secondary students would be better served in a high school environment than at the therapeutic day school.
The complaint suggests secondary students would be better served in a high school environment than at the therapeutic day school.

The Kansas State Department of Education last week informed the Shawnee Mission School District that it had assigned an investigator to look into a complaint filed about the district’s administration of special education programs.

Liz Meitl, a Shawnee Mission parent who has been active in advocating for teachers and students in the district for the past few years, filed the complaint last Monday after months of raising concerns about the district’s handling of support services for students in special education programs.

Under department protocol, KSDE assigns an investigator to look into every complaint it receives. A notice sent from KSDE to Shawnee Mission’s‎ Director of Special Education Jackie Chatman suggests the department hopes to complete the investigation within approximately 30 days.

Among the issues raised in Meitl’s complaint are:

  • Under-staffing of special education teachers, paraprofessionals and specialists to work with students who have disabilities.
  • Lack of appropriate degrees or credentials among some staff members assigned to work as behavioral specialists.
  • Unmanageably large caseloads for special education teachers assigned to work with gifted students.
  • A lag time between the date transfer students enroll in the district and the day they begin to receive special education services.

She also alleges that the district “consistently allocates resources in inequitable ways, advantaging families with more resources and capital (financial, educational, and social) and disadvantaging families with fewer resources.” Meitl says data suggest that the district has under-identified the number of students who should be receiving special services for disabilities.

Shawnee Mission Director of Communications Erin Little did not respond to an invitation to comment on the situation sent last week.

Reached for comment on the decision to file the complaint, Meitl said she hoped it would get district level administrators to take her concerns with staffing of special education programs seriously.

“As somebody who is a partner with the district and talks to lots of teachers and patrons, I’ve noticed in last couple of weeks sharp spike in discipline problems at elementary schools. I think that it’s related to understaffing and poor resource allocation of social workers and other kinds of specialists,” she said. “People are not taking this as seriously as it needs to be taken. The complaint is another way to make them pay attention to the problem.”