The Rhode Island House is considering legislation to help special education students currently neglected or underserved in public schools.
“In too many cases, parents feel left out,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport. “They feel as though they don’t have the resources to fully address and be competent enough to understand what the IEP process is.”
The measure would create a special education investigator, or “ombudsman,” to assist members of the public and “ensure compliance by schools and school districts with the applicable individualized education program (IEP).”
The bill adds that the ombudsman would operate independently from the state’s Department of Education. If passed, it would take effect immediately.
Although roughly 16% of Rhode Island’s K-12 students have IEPs, the public education system often fails to fully serve them, critics say.
“My daughter Rachel went without an IEP from 2017 to 2023. No services. No nothing,” said Mary McDonough, who testified in favor of the bill. “Rhode Island failed my daughter. They failed us as a family.”
Sadly, Rhode Island’s struggle isn’t an anomaly.
A state senator from Oregon recently accused public schools of unlawfully reducing instruction time for disabled students, and an Arizona paraprofessional claimed his district didn’t provide qualified teachers for special education classes.
Districts in Colorado, Texas and Virginia are also facing scrutiny.
In Austin, the problems were so severe that a conservator management team was appointed to combat the “repetitive and pervasive pattern of violations” of special education law.
Some parents of the children affected fight for their children’s right to a quality public education – like those who are suing New York City for failing to provide special education services – while others choose public school alternatives.
States offering school choice scholarships for students with IEPs give families more options by helping fund private school tuition or the costs of extra tutoring.
However, Rhode Island does not have such a program.