Special-needs student have unmet needs

During the 2016-2017 school year 16,884 students in Hawaii, six through 21 years of age were categorized as students with disabilities.

Students with disabilities may have developmental, emotional and/or intellectual disability, autism, speech and language disability and other health disabilities. The Special Education Advisory Council’s annual report for July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 states, “In School Year 2016-2017 the 18,969 students with Individualized Education Plans represented 10.6 percent of Hawaii’s public school students.”

The national average in 2015 was 13 percent.

“SEAC is made up of a diverse group of individuals with expertise in a variety of aspects affecting special education and related issues.”

The roster includes individuals from the Department of Health specializing in Parent/Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Early Intervention; representatives from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Youth Corrections; Education Specialists; teachers, administrators and parents; and other community professionals.

SEAC has many functions and advising the Department of Education on the “unmet needs within the state in the education of children with disabilities is listed as the council’s first function. Function number five is listed as advising the DOE in developing and implementing policies relating to the coordination of services for children with disabilities.

According to the SEAC Report, the National Assessment of Educational Progress is administered to groups of students in the fourth and eighth grades in every state.

“Although Hawaii’s regular education 4th and 8th graders have been making gains on the NAEP in past years, the special education 4th and 8th grade scores are among the lowest in the nation,” the report says.

Chronic absenteeism among children with disabilities is high and in Hawaii it is almost double the rate (24.2 percent) compared to non-special education students. This may result in lower graduation rates. In School Year 2014-2015, Hawaii graduation rates were 60.4 percent for special education students compared to 82.0 percent for non-special education students.

Another concern SEAC has is that in Hawaii “roughly 2/3 of Hawaii’s students with disabilities spend the majority of their day outside of the general education classroom, while national averages show the reverse.” “In SY 2016-17, only 37.3 percent of Hawaii students with IEPs spent 80 percent or more of their day in general education classrooms” while the national average was 62 percent.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation and recommends students “receive their educational program in the general education classroom to the maximum extent possible.”

The SEAC report states, “Placing students with disabilities in a general education classroom in unnatural proportions and with inadequate services and supplementary supports has resulted in poor outcomes for students with and without disabilities and a mistaken belief by some schools that ‘we tried inclusion and it doesn’t work.’”

Concern for due process safeguards for students with disabilities is also mentioned in the report “When parents of students with disabilities disagree with their child’s identification, evaluation, program, placement, or discipline they have a right to due process safeguards – mediation, written complains and due process hearings — to try to resolve the conflict.

Despite a significant reduction in due process hearing requests over the last five years, Hawaii still out paces the national average in the number of hearing requests filed, and the number of those requests that result in a due process hearing.”

The SEAC 2016-2017 annual report offers many recommendations to the Department of Education. In addition to addressing special education staffing shortages, teacher preparation and professional development and accountability, SEAC developed a framework to address inclusive education in its Vision of Inclusion.

This vision creates inclusive school communities as places “in which each student feels welcomed and valued. Differences are viewed as bringing richness to the environment that promotes acceptance, valuing and celebrating individual difference.”

Na Hopena A’o, a Board of Education policy built on a “foundation in Hawaiian values, language, culture and history reflects the uniqueness of Hawaii and supports a holistic learning process to guide learners and leaders in the entire school community to strengthen every student.

SEAC has also “successfully utilized the process of Leading by Convening to address DOE leadership problems adversely affecting students with disabilities.”

“Leading by Convening is an evidence-based strategy that moves away from traditional expected behavior for interacting in collaborative practice. The framework provides strategies to help stakeholder engagement become more comprehensive, holistic, result in long term sustainability and establish a foundation for authentic engagement in supporting improved student achievement.”

The next article for In Your Corner will speak to the specific actions parents can take to ensure their child with disabilities receives the support he or she may need in school and in the community.


Hale ’Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Esther Solomon at esolomon@haleopio.org. For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kauai, please go to www.haleopio.org


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