Education

Biloxi teaching team will meet on disabled students' treatment

BLAKE KAPLAN/SUN HERALD 
 Arthur McMillan, the superintendent of Biloxi Schools, on Wednesday July 15, 2015.
BLAKE KAPLAN/SUN HERALD Arthur McMillan, the superintendent of Biloxi Schools, on Wednesday July 15, 2015. SUN HERALD

BILOXI -- Biloxi schools Superintendent Arthur McMillan will appoint a team -- composed of administrators, teachers and outside consultants -- to determine the best way to implement state Department of Education recommendations regarding the treatment of disabled students.

The district received the results Friday of a state investigation into its treatment of students at Gorenflo Elementary School.

Officials, however, said federal student-privacy laws prevented them from releasing any of the report's findings, including the recommendations.

Also Friday, Biloxi officials confirmed Steve Huckaby, the district's special services director who denied the accusations, had resigned effective at the end of the school year.

Officials said his resignation was not related to the investigation.

On Friday, McMillan said he stood behind the district's management of students with disabilities.

"I'm proud of the hardworking and caring professionals that go over and beyond every single day to educate and care for our students," he said. "And I'm especially impressed by the services we offer to our special-education students. We strive to provide for them a safe and structured environment in which they can achieve their goals.

"That being said, we are always learning, always trying to grow and improve, and the recent report from the MDE has shown us some areas that we need to work on."

Disability Rights Mississippi had filed a systemic administrative complaint on behalf of a 9-year-old boy at Gorenflo and about a dozen of his former classmates in a special education classroom.

It claims students were improperly "warehoused" in the class apart from the general school population and spent hours each day without adequate instruction. The complaint also pointed to improper use of high chair-like supportive seats called "hardrock chairs."

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that "to the maximum extent possible" students with disabilities be "educated with children who are not disabled." Children should be taught separately only when "education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily."

McMillan said the Education Department had warned him not to share the report's specific findings. He said the separate class at Gorenflo was still in place for students who needed instruction outside a traditional classroom and the hardrock chairs were still being used according to procedure.

Disability Rights Mississippi and representatives for the family of the child named in the complaint could not be reached for comment.

McMillan said the state's report had set time lines for each of its recommendations.

He also said parents needn't be concerned for their children.

"If parents are concerned, I hope they see us, let us address the concerns to make them feel comfortable that we are taking care of their children and meeting their educational needs," he said. "We all want the same thing -- what's best for the students."

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