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Rest of the Story: Elevating Special Education in DCSD

The Douglas County School District’s Special Education team empowers students to achieve world-class outcomes by providing specialized instruction and services.


Student Focused, Service Oriented

The team has an impressive vision -- to be a world class special education department and deploy a service delivery model that is focused on exceeding student needs. They provide instructional services, programming support and professional development to all DCSD schools. Services are provided to approximately 7,000 students across the district by approximately 1,250 special educators, related service providers and educational assistants. The team also oversees implementation of Section 504 plans which afford approximately 1,000+ students who experience a substantially limiting physical or mental impairment the opportunity to benefit from the educational program and activities of their school.


Supporting All Schools

DCSD’s Special Education team operates on a three-tiered service delivery model:

  1. Universal services are available to all students who are entitled to Special Education services as identified in the student’s IEP.

  2. Targeted services are available to students who require a higher level of support than those who benefit from universal services alone.

  3. Intensive services are available to students who require a higher level of support than those who benefit from universal and targeted services.


Universal and targeted special education support and services are available at all DCSD schools. This includes mental health, speech-language, behavior support team, autism assessment and training team, occupational therapy, physical therapy, assistive technology, vision, deaf hard of hearing, and audiology.


The DCSD team also provides an intensive level of support in center-based programs for students who experience significant support needs, serious emotional disabilities, deaf and hard of hearing, and autism. Center-based programming is designed to enable students to build the skills required to access and make progress in the general curriculum/environment to the fullest extent possible. DCSD currently offers 64 significant support needs programs, 11 serious emotional disability programs, 4 deaf and hard of hearing programs, and 2 autism center-based programs district-wide.


Facts -- Not Fiction

To learn more about Special Education in DCSD, empower yourself with the facts.


The Buzz

The Facts

DCSD Special Education students do not have access to “choice”

DCSD offers a moderate needs program in every DCSD school. Center-based programs for students who experience significant support needs, serious emotional disabilities, deaf and hard of hearing, and autism provide an intensive level of support. Modeled after the successful Plum Creek Academy, which supports high school students, the proposed K-8 Special Education school would provide students another choice within DCSD.

Questions surround how Special Education funds are utilized in DCSD

Spending for Special Education in DCSD has increased in recent years, in part due to growth in the number of students entitled to Special Education services:

  • 2014-15: $66.2 million

  • 2013-14: $63 million

  • 2012-13: $59.2 million

  • 2011-12: $53.9 million

  • 2010-11: $52.5 million


Looking ahead to the 2016-2017 school year, DCSD’s Special Education team has allocated an additional 19 FTE (full-time equivalent staff members) to DCSD schools. Funding allocations are based on student needs at each individual school. And if a student moves to another school, so does the funding.

Lots of Special Education teachers are leaving DCSD

Nationally, special education turnover often approximates double the turnover of other licensed teacher groups. In DCSD:

  • 2014-15: 13.23% turnover rate for all licensed special educators

  • 2015-16 (to date): 9.81% turnover rate for all licensed special educators

It is important to note that special education turnover is often highest in positions with high demand - such as the challenging center-based teaching positions.

Special Education teachers have no access to professional development

The DCSD Professional Development team delivers innovative learning opportunities needed to support sustainable and personalized professional staff development. The team is creating professional learning for our staff members that is differentiated and grounded in research and literature. This includes Special Education teachers.

DCSD’s Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum (GVC) comes with a mandate to limit direct instruction

DCSD’s Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum allows teachers the opportunity to differentiate instruction by integrating evidence-based instructional strategies -- including target teaching -- to meet the unique academic, social, emotional and physical needs of all students.

One staff member creates a Special Education student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) while another implements it

During a single school year, the DCSD team conducts approximately 10,000 Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. These involve parents, various staff members and specialists.

Parents are denied the ability to participate in the creation of their student’s IEP

Parents join their student to collaborate with teachers and specialists to discuss educational needs. Parents are critical members of the IEP team. Everyone gets a voice in this process.

DCSD’s Special Education model is designed to ensure that students are able to access and make progress in the general curriculum. Service is driven by student need and may change as the student progresses towards goal and objectives.

Learn more about Special Education in DCSD

Read about Professional Development in DCSD