West Virginia Declares Emergency in Hampshire County Schools Special Ed

The district will be required to address a number of problems, including a lacking graduation rate for students in special education.

This is a photo of a classroom with a blue bulletin board.
On Wednesday, the West Virginia Board of Education declared a state of emergency in Hampshire County Schools special education program. (Lexi Browning/West Virginia Watch)

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The West Virginia Board of Education declared a state of emergency in Hampshire County Schools special education program after nearly three years of shortcomings for vulnerable students.

The board’s decision, issued on Wednesday during their monthly meeting, requires the school district to address issues, including missing services, staffing and a lacking graduation rate for students in special education.

Hampshire County Schools serve 2,800 students. About 20% of students — or around one out of every five kids — have Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, that require special education services and staffing.

Alexandra Criner, director of the West Virginia Department of Education Office of Accountability, told school board members that the district needed ‘substantial intervention.” The district often used a “one size fits all approach” for students in special education, she said, and students weren’t always placed in the most appropriate classroom settings.

Teachers and administrators across the district have expressed the need for help to address ongoing special education issues in eight schools, she noted, adding that one district employee supported 500 students with IEPs.

“Teachers [and] principals felt overwhelmed by the procedural aspect of special education,” Criner said.

Hampshire County Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Pancione did not respond to an interview request for this story.

There are special education shortcomings in multiple counties, according to state reviews, and the state is experiencing a special education employee shortage in the critical area. Statewide, more than 45,000 students need special education services, according to the West Virginia Developmental Disabilities Council.

An October report from the WVDE showed that 14 counties, including Hampshire, needed assistance with their special education.

The WVDE Office of Accountability reported shortcomings in Hampshire County’s special education programs in 2021, 2022 and this year.

After the school district failed to make improvements, the office conducted a special circumstance review of the school district in September. The WVDE Office of Accountability reviewed a random sample of dozens of special education students’ files.

“We reviewed 45 IEP files to verify the time and duration of services,” Criner said. “Twenty-nine of those 45 IEPs had at least one unverifiable service.”

Some records were incomplete or out of date, she added.

Additionally, the district had failed to improve its graduation outcomes for students with disabilities, despite over the last two years receiving more than $95,000 to address the issue, according to a WVDE report.

“The use [of those] funds has not resulted in improvement of that data,” Criner said.

The WVDE laid out a number of necessary improvements for the Hampshire County Schools, including making sure all students with IEPs received the necessary special education services. Curriculum improvements were needed, as well.

The report did note that “safe and appropriate student behavior was observed in the majority of classrooms.”

The school system will receive state support and oversight to implement the recommendations under the state of emergency declaration.

“Within six months, if they haven’t made progress, we’ll see if additional steps need to be taken,” said Michele Blatt, state superintendent of schools.

The state board of education seized control of Logan County schools in 2022 after an investigation revealed numerous problems that included special education shortcomings. The district still remains under state control.

Upshur County Schools is also under state control due to misspending of $16.1 million in federal COVID-19 pandemic relief money. A state review showed the money was spent on things like pool passes and bed and breakfast retreats.

Former state schools superintendent David Roach announced his retirement as the problem came to light over the summer.

State School Board President Paul Hardesty questioned if the state could do more to monitor county’s special education programs before it needed emergency-level intervention.

“Is there some way we can identify and help these people … so that it doesn’t get to a crisis? That’s something we need to strive for, because this is our most at risk population — these are children who have the most needs,” he said.

West Virginia Watch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. West Virginia Watch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Leann Ray for questions: info@westvirginiawatch.com. Follow West Virginia Watch on Facebook and Twitter.

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