Special needs treatment a concern

Published 12:03 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2017

McEachin task force planned

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

WASHINGTON D.C.—Rep. Donald McEachin (D-4th) is initiating a community task force to examine the way minority and special needs students are being treated in school divisions within his district, which includes Surry County.

In a press release issued Tuesday, McEachin said the creation of the task force is an effort to respond to “unfair and unwarranted disparities” in the way certain students are treated within his congressional district, specifically in the form of high suspension rates.

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The task force, to be made up of volunteers from within the community, will look at all grade levels, according to McEachin, and will be overseen by him and appointed by his district office staff.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The task force will meet regularly to focus on concerns for special needs and minority students and develop constructive proposals, according to McEachin.

“I believe that bringing together knowledgeable voices with different perspectives can, hopefully, lead to some new approaches,” McEachin said in an email. “What’s happening now is not working and is unacceptable.”

McEachin said he is “eager” to work with all school systems in his district, but has not yet met with administrators of Surry County Schools about the task force.

The initiative is based largely on complaints from parents and community members, according to McEachin, who called minority student suspension rates “disproportionate.”

“Unfortunately, statistics bear out the disparate suspension rates and anecdotally, we all know of special needs children being treated inappropriately,” said McEachin.

No federal funds will be used for the task force.

“All participants are volunteers dedicated to making a difference in our community,” McEachin said.

According to the Virginia Department of Education, there are currently 117 students registered with disabilities in Surry County Schools, 76 of whom are a minority. Of the division’s total student population of 826, 283 are white.

According to a report by VDOE last year, though the black student population made up only 23 percent in the state, black students accounted for 53 percent of short-term suspensions (10 days or fewer) and 60 percent of long-term suspensions (11 to 364 days).

Black students with disabilities made up 51 and 63 percent of short-term and long-term suspensions for students with disabilities, despite being only 28 percent of the total students with disabilities population.  {/mprestriction}