Gary Community School Corp.'s track record with special education has been abysmal, but there are signs of progress.
The situation was so bad last April that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett spoke to The Times Editorial Board about wanting to discuss this with the Gary School Board, but being rebuffed.
Bennett said at the time that Gary Community School Corp. had a suspension/expulsion rate for students with disabilities that was seven times higher than the state average.
And despite the push for putting special education students in the least restrictive environment, only 18 percent of Gary's special education students were in the general education for 80 percent or more of the day. That was three times lower than the state average.
That was then; this is now.
Gary's school system has new leadership, and the commitment to improving special education shows.
Special Education Director Marianne Fidishin began her duties in Gary in August, a month after Cheryl Pruitt took over as superintendent.
Fidishin is heading in the right direction, said Barbara Butcher, the school psychologist who is working with Gary Community School Corp. on behalf of the Indiana Department of Public Education.
Gary, like districts across the state, has begun using Response to Intervention to identify at-risk students early and design interventions to meet their needs. As a result, fewer students are referred to special education.
Fidishin's office now must approve all suspensions and expulsions, which should help bring that number down as well.
It takes time to change a culture, but the Gary school officials are making headway.
It is heartening to see Gary's new special education director put a strong focus on turning around this troubled program so it not only comes into compliance with state and federal mandates but also, and more importantly, serves the needs of Gary's schoolchildren.