KSDE investigator finds evidence Shawnee Mission has violated state’s special education requirements, but says issues are not systemic


A Kansas State Department of Education investigator tasked with looking into a series of complaints about the Shawnee Mission School District’s special education services has identified at least four areas where the district is out of compliance with education laws, but says that the issues are not reflective of district-wide policies designed to intentionally deprive students in need of services from resources.

A complaint filed by Liz Meitl, a doctoral student in the University of Kansas’s Special Education Department and the parent of two children enrolled in Shawnee Mission schools, alleged that the district was not properly administering its special education services in a variety of ways. Among the issues alleged in Meitl’s November complaint were inadequate staffing for services given to students with disabilities, inappropriate credentials for some special education staff members, and unmanageably large caseloads for special education teachers assigned to work with gifted students.

Meitl also alleged that the district was systematically denying access to special education resources for students at schools in less affluent pockets of the district.

In her report, which was delivered to Meitl and Shawnee Mission’s head of special education Jackie Chatman on Dec. 22, investigator Diana Durkin said that she found evidence to support a number of Meitl’s claims.

Specifically, Durkin said there have been instances in Shawnee Mission where:

  • Students are not being provided with the number of minutes specified in their Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) because several schools in the district are understaffed.
  • Elementary students did not receive support services mandated by their IEPs early in the 2017-18 school year.
  • Secondary students in the therapeutic day program were receiving subject-specific instruction from a staff member without the proper credential.
  • Gifted students were not receiving the amount of special services specified in their IEPs.

Durkin did not, however, find evidence to substantiate allegations that there was an inappropriate lag time between the day transfer students enrolled in Shawnee Mission and when their special services began; and that some staff who identified as behavioral specialists did not have proper credentials.

As a result of the investigation, KSDE has directed the district to take a number of corrective actions, including the development of plans within the coming month to ensure the district is adhering to laws and regulations moving forward.

Durkin’s investigation did not, however, find enough evidence to substantiate Meitl’s claims that district-level policies were in part responsible for many of the violations, and that the district has “consistently allocates resources in inequitable ways, advantaging families with more resources and capital (financial, educational, and social) and disadvantaging families with fewer resources.”

Durkin said inconsistencies in service delivery were not unique to Shawnee Mission’s special education programs.

“This district, like many districts across the state and nation, is dealing with a changing demographic at a time when financing and the ability to hire special education staff is especially challenging. Administrators are asked to be fiscally responsible to patrons while ensuring that the needs of students are fully and thoughtfully addressed,” Durkin wrote. “While this investigation has substantiated some specific violations of special education laws and regulations, the investigator did not find any evidence of systemic actions, policy, or practices on the part of the district purposefully designed to undermine the ability of school-level professionals to perform their duties.”

The full report is embedded below:
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