DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News has learned that DeKalb school officials enrolled hundreds of special ed students in an online study program that requires students to work almost entirely on their own.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher broke the story in January that the district’s FLEX Academy was plagued by mismanagement during the semester that began last August.
Technical and communications problems plus overcrowding were so severe that school officials repeatedly pushed back the deadline for FLEX students to submit all of their first semester work.
Grades were finally posted Feb. 4 about a month after grades were posted for the rest of DeKalb’s students.
Channel 2 Action News used the Georgia Open Records Act to obtain the number of special ed students enrolled in FLEX.
The district says about 10.4% of the nearly 3,600 FLEX students qualify for special ed, which means each one has an IEP, an individualized education program, intended to address the student’s special needs.
After our initial stories in January, we heard from Dianna Hunter, whose 16-year-old son has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. He qualifies for special ed and has an IEP.
But Brocari Hunter was placed in FLEX Academy, which requires students to work with almost no supervision by teachers.
Dianna Hunter said there were consistent technical problems making it hard for her son to log in to get his assignments and complete his work.
And she contends she never authorized Brocari’s placement in the independent online program, and it has been a disaster.
“We’re losing. We’re losing. We’re lost,” she told Channel 2 in an interview last month.
- Nearly half of students in DeKalb school FLEX Academy are failing, investigation finds
- DeKalb parents say they are running into problems with county’s online teaching program
- Semester ends for problematic DeKalb schools online FLEX program
- Investigation finds more than 150 DeKalb County teachers were not paid for entire semester
Using a document provided by a whistleblower inside the district, Channel 2 reported that 46% of the more than 21,000 Flex student grades were failing as of mid-January.
We’ve filed another records request for the breakdown of final first semester grades. The district says those won’t be available until early March.
Angela Greene emailed us after she saw our story about Ms. Hunter and her son.
Greene says she can help Dianna Hunter because of her own experience putting two special ed daughters through school.
Greene says both had “specific learning disabilities.”
Greene is deeply skeptical that children with IEPs should be enrolled in programs like FLEX, that leave students to work largely on their own.
“It’s ideal for a student who is self-motivated and doesn’t have anything that’s preventing them from being successful, but a student with an IEP is already at a disadvantage. A student with an IEP is not likely to thrive in an independent study environment. There are special supports and services that are built into an IEP for a student who has certain challenges or disabilities, so if they’re in an independent studies environment, how are they getting those services and support?” she told Belcher.
But Greene says parents of special ed students often need help navigating a complicated system. She said she got critical help from another parent when her daughters were going through school.
“A lot of times, the problem is that parents either don’t know or don’t understand their rights. They don’t understand that they are the head of their IEP team, and they have the final word on what will or won’t, can or can’t happen with their student,” Greene said.
Nat Malkus -- an education expert at the conservative Heritage Institute in Washington, DC -- made a similar point in an interview with Channel 2 last month.
“It’s only a small portion of those students that can succeed without the direct connection to a teacher that you get at least somewhat through Zoom and certainly in the classroom. Many students with disabilities are going to struggle all the more with an asynchronous (independent of the teacher) learning environment,” Malkus said.
The district did not provide a statement for our story.
A final note; Bocari Hunter is now out of FLEX and back in a regular DeKalb County high school.
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