Lynchburg, VA - Lynchburg City Schools could soon face a huge fine from the Federal government over special education.
Administrators say the feds could force the school system to re-allocate $350,000 from the special education department to preventative programs that aim to reduce the number of students who need special education.
Lynchburg has a disproportionately high, eye-opening number; one that took center stage at Tuesday night's city council meeting, where council approved allocating the funds, in case the feds act.
"Our African American population's roughly about 50% in Lynchburg City Schools, and we're up at 83% of our special education students are African American students" said Lynchburg City Schools Superintendent, Dr. Scott Brabrand.
He's speaking of 83% of intellectually disabled special education students. Those numbers from 2011, the latest available, were up a full 5% from 2010.
"We're very nervous. We are right on the line to be getting fined by the federal government, and we need to start to take some action" said Brabrand.
The U.S. Department of Education has what's called a 5% leniency. Meaning the percentage of minority students in special education, should not exceed 5% more of their percentage in the general population.
African Americans make up 50% of Lynchburg students, however they make up an overwhelming majority of the students defined as intellectually disabled.
"It might be happening because we didn't have appropriate interventions. Now we do" said the school system's Director of Special Education, Wyllys VanDerwerker.
VanDerwerker admits things need to get better.
But he can remember a time when they were even worse.
In less than 10 years, the overall population of students enrolled in Lynchburg special education is down by 6%.
One reason is more effective intervention; helping to keep fewer students from ever winding up classified as special education.
"We have a comprehensive tiered intervention program in our division which is a wonderful way to start really going after bringing about more academic success for children, and it will help us with offsetting referrals to special education" said VanDerwerker.
It may be months before the school system hears if they will be penalized.
Administrators are describing the fine as a catch-22; the feds take money away from special education, with the expectation that it will fix the special education problem.
School officials are being proactive with this, setting aside enough money, just in case.