PITTSBURG -- The Pittsburg Unified School District unanimously approved a plan to reduce the number of black students referred to a special education program for emotionally disturbed students.
The corrective plan means that alternative support services will be available to all at-risk students, regardless of ethnicity, who could benefit from extra counseling and support without being placed in the program.
Critics have pointed out that some school districts have acted too quickly in placing black children in the program, when they could be struggling for other reasons that could be addressed without special education.
The plan was developed in response to a state Department of Education finding that the 24 black children in the program in December 2010 was twice as many as there should be based on the total number of black students who go to Pittsburg's K-12 schools.
But while the plan was approved Wednesday night, trustees are questioning the methodology used by state education officials to arrive at their findings, given that most of those students came to Pittsburg Unified from other districts.
Superintendent Linda Rondeau told trustees she had asked state officials in August to revise their data to reflect that, but never received a response. State officials said they have responded to the district and that under federal law, Pittsburg's disproportionality is calculated on the basis of the number of students enrolled in the district.
"Out of 24, only six were identified by us," school board trustee Laura Canciamilla said Thursday. "The way the state collected the data is flawed. They are just saying how many are on the list ... For us to address the problem, the solution is look not only at our own identification process to make sure it maintains at the same low level we have in the past, but also to look at students (designated as emotionally disturbed) from other districts to make sure the original identification was a correct one."
To that end, a committee that recommended approval of the plan before it was brought to trustees will consider an amendment by Canciamilla that calls for district schools to use a more consistent approach to re-evaluating special education students who come from other districts.
The corrective plan calls for reducing by 25 percent over the next two years the number of black students referred to the program, which provides additional counseling, behavioral and academic resources.
Among the plan elements are a review of special education assessment procedures, increased training for teachers and administrators, and additional academic, behavioral and mental health intervention for at-risk students. Money to carry out the plan will come from existing federal funds that help support special education.
State officials also found that 48 other school districts, including Alameda, Berkeley, Fremont Union High, Hayward, Mt. Diablo and Oakland, also fell into the significant disproportionate category for any ethnicity in any category. Such districts are supposed to have corrective plans in place by the start of the new school year.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/eastcounty_girl.