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Education

Ray Carter | June 10, 2024

Stitt signs bill ending special-needs discrimination

Ray Carter

Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed legislation that requires schools to treat students with special needs the same as any other student when evaluating open-transfer requests.

Until the passage of House Bill 3386, Oklahoma had a two-tiered system. When students sought an open transfer into a public-school district other than the one geographically closest to them, students with no special needs were granted more rights than students with special needs who had an individualized education program (IEP).

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, noted that fact when he carried the legislation on the Senate floor.

“Currently in state law kids who are not on an IEP can, when they’re trying to get a transfer, they can appeal to the local board and they can appeal to the state board if they don’t get their desired result,” Treat said. “Kids on an IEP don’t enjoy that right in Oklahoma currently. This fixes that.”

House Bill 3386, by House Speaker Charles McCall and Treat, creates an appeals process for students on an IEP who are denied a transfer to another district.

Under the bill, if a student on an IEP is denied a transfer, the child’s parents or guardian have 10 days to appeal that decision to the local school board, which must consider the appeal at the group’s next meeting. If a local school board denies the transfer, the child’s family has another 10 days to appeal that decision to the State Board of Education, which must consider the issue at its next regular meeting.

The legislation also requires public school districts to publicly report the number of transfer requests received each year from students with disabilities, the number of such requests that are denied, and whether each denial was based on the availability of programs, staff, or services.

Up to 10 percent of school districts could be randomly audited each year by the state Office of Educational Quality and Accountability to ensure schools are complying with the law.

Those provisions duplicate existing protections that are in place for all other students seeking a transfer.

Under Oklahoma law, schools are expected to facilitate the involvement of parents in structuring a child’s IEP to maximize the benefit of services and improve student outcomes. The state goal is for 94 percent of parents to report a satisfactory level of involvement in their child’s IEP process in each district.

But a significant number of districts fall far short of that goal, according to data publicly reported by school districts

For example, in the 2022 state fiscal year, just 69.39 percent of parents in the Deer Creek district reported that the school facilitated sufficient involvement in their child’s IEP process. In the Edmond school district, just 57.14 percent of IEP students’ parents reported satisfactory involvement. In the Piedmont district, only 25 percent of families reported that school officials facilitated sufficient parental involvement in their child’s IEP process and education goals.

Under those conditions, many parents have sought to move their child to a district that is more welcoming to those with special needs, but the loopholes addressed by HB 3386 previously made that very difficult.

In some cases parents reportedly had to go to extreme lengths to obtain a transfer for a child with learning challenges, such as taking a child off an IEP, then seeking a transfer, and then having the child re-evaluated and placed again on an IEP. That process meant a child lost at least 45 days of needed educational services, about one-fourth of the school year, in order to transfer into another district.

Despite the plight of those families, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) opposed a similar bill in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in February, although the group publicly remained on the sidelines when HB 3386 advanced.

HB 3386 passed the Oklahoma Senate on a 32-8 vote on April 25 and then received a final vote in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on May 28, where it passed on a 76-9 vote, receiving bipartisan support in that chamber. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law on May 31.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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