Late last month, DRDC’s Staff Attorney Maeve Sullivan and Law Clerk Mary Ann Barrow submitted comments to the DC Council on Bill 25-36, or the Out of School Time Special Education Inclusion and Standards Amendment Act of 2023 (“OST Bill”). The OST Bill would require the Office of Out of School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to develop standards to recruit and train Out of School Time (OST) providers for children with disabilities. This legislation would make OST programming, which includes supervised learning or youth development programs taking place before or after the school day and during school breaks, more accessible to all children in the District.
According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), states must provide “a free appropriate public education” to all children with disabilities. Studies show that these students benefit most from learning in integrated settings, as opposed to segregated settings exclusively for children requiring special education. In recent years, OST has become a crucial component of public education and has been shown to hold significant benefits for children’s physical and mental well-being. For example, studies suggest that OST programs that provide children with academic support can improve students’ academic achievements. Others find that OST programs that follow certain evidence-based practices can improve children’s self-perception and positive social behaviors while reducing children’s drug use and conduct issues. Therefore, making this programming inclusive of all children is necessary and required by IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Despite the fact that nearly one in five students in DC has a disability, the District does not have a track record of inclusivity in education. 9% of students with disabilities in the District attend a separate school from their general education peers – this is three times the national average. In addition, only 58% of students with disabilities in DC spend more than 80% of their school day in a general education classroom. The District’s OST programming is especially inaccessible. Only 45% of OST programs in non-Title I and charter schools and 25% of OST programs in community-based organizations report offering behavioral support plans for students with disabilities. Even more strikingly, only approximately 25% of OST programs in community-based organizations and 20% of OST programs in non-Title I and charter schools train their staff on the needs of students with disabilities.
As DC’s Protection and Advocacy program advocating for the rights of District residents with disabilities, DRDC provided comments stating that the OST Bill is an important step in making the District more inclusive. In their comments, Maeve and Mary Ann offered three recommendations for the DC Council to make sure that the OST Bill brings about meaningful change. First, they recommended that the bill include a list of specific training programs that OST providers working with the Office of Out of School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education must undergo. For instance, they suggested that the bill require providers to receive training in “addressing students in crisis,” “positive behavior management,” and “family engagement.” Second, they recommended that the bill require OST programs to monitor their effectiveness through measurable outcomes, such as the number of children with disabilities successfully completing their programs. Third, they recommended that the bill require OST programs to regularly publish accurate data on their participation and effectiveness.
As Mary Ann, who herself has two children who participate in special education programming, put it, “inclusion in the community starts early, and so does exclusion.” DRDC commends the DC Council on its work with the OST Bill and hopes that, if passed, this bill will be a significant step towards equitable education in the District. Continue to follow our newsletters to stay up to date on the OST bill.
Published: July 25th, 2023