The Oregon Department of Education is fining Portland Public Schools for suspending and expelling a disproportionate number of special education students who are also African American.

PPS officials were unable late Wednesday night to say exactly how much money the district will lose in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years — the time frame for the sanction — but the figure is likely to be significant. 

Superintendent Carole Smith's chief of staff, Amanda Whalen, sent an email to Board of Education members Wednesday afternoon, saying the district would lose 15 percent of its Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding. That pot of money is supposed to ensure that special education students get an appropriate education.

Update on Thursday:letter from the department of education, dated Aug. 5, says the district will be required to shift $1.47 million from its $9.8 million IDEA fund to early intervention services that address the problem of disproportionate punishment. But because federal law also requires what's called "maintenance of effort" the district will likely have to fill the gap.

Update No. 2 on Thursday: The district will pull $1.47 million from its special-education reserves to fill the gap left by the state mandate to pay for interventions, district officials said Thursday afternoon. But a district spokeswoman, Christine Miles, says that doesn't count as losing money. She also said that what the district called a "financial sanction" in its own correspondence  about the education department's actions shouldn't be considered a fine.

Original story: Whalen's email said the education department looked at data from the 2013-14 school year and found "significant disproportionality in the district's use of long-term exclusionary discipline with black students identified as eligible for special education." 

The email noted that PPS has seen improvements in its rates of discipline against students with disabilities, black students with disabilities and students overall. But the rates are still higher than the education department allows.

PPS has faced problems with its disproportionate discipline of African-American students for years. WW reported last year that the disparities in discipline of white and black students had continued to grow even as the number of disciplinary cases have fallen overall.

Here's the text of Whalen's email to the board.


Dear Board Members, Below is information on the finding around disproportionately that we recently received from ODE. Please let Mary Pearson, Senior Director of Special Education or me know if you have any questions. ODE notified us in late August 2014 that our discipline data indicated significant disproportionality in the district’s use of long-term exclusionary discipline with blacks students identified as eligible for special education based on data from the 12-13 school year. This finding translates to 15% financial sanction of our IDEA fund over the 2014/15 and 2015/16 school years. Background : PPS was last sanctioned based on exclusionary discipline data from 09-10; we received notice from ODE in May 2011, and implemented CEIS for years 11-12 and 12-13. CEIS funds were used primarily to fund behavior coaches that worked in 8-10 of the most high risk schools for exclusion of black students. The current sanction is based on exclusionary discipline data from the second year of implementation of the previous CEIS plan. The 12-13 data shows a significant reduction in the overall use of more than 10 days exclusionary discipline (51.5% improvement over 09-10, 227 to 110), a significant reduction in the use of exclusionary discipline with students with disabilities (62.4% improvement over 09-10, 101 to 38) and a significant reduction in the use of exclusionary discipline with black students with disabilities (56.8% over 09-10, 44 to 19). While there has some improvement in reducing the disproportionality gap (from 11.54 in 09- 10 to 5.02 in 2012-13 ), the gap is still over the ODE threshold of a weighted risk ratio of 4. Outline of plan: District Wide- Our plan is to work with our School Psychologist advisory group to develop a plan to provide CEIS services in the schools they serve. This is in line with National Association of School Psychologists’ Model for Comprehensive Integrated School Psychological Services. The school psychologists will receive additional training on taking a leadership role in schools in implementation of Culturally Responsive PBIS (CR-PBIS), restorative justice, and/or other strategies in collaboration with other PPS departments to address the priority of reducing exclusionary discipline, particularly exclusionary discipline of black students. Activities school psychologists may perform to impact the implementation of PBIS include progress monitoring and problem solving, assessment and intervention design, staff training, and adapting and using data to make decisions (Gresham, 2004; Kratochwill, 2007; Horner, Sugai, Todd, & Lewis-Palmer,2005; Sugai & Horner, 2006). Timeline- Sept. 2014- Explain sanction and share plan for CEIS to School Psychologists Gather baseline data on preventative practice survey Convene with School Psychologist advisory group to develop scope and sequence of 2 year professional development plan. Finalize the CEIS plan to submit to ODE Oct. 2014- Full day School Psychologist work group Review survey data Vet and finalize Comprehensive and Integrated Service Delivery Model Develop tracking and accountability system for reporting results to ODE Nov 2014- June 2016 Monthly School Psychologist advisory group Professional Development Monitor implementation Monthly Professional Development and PLC’s focused on Comprehensive and Integrated Service Delivery Model Annual report to ODE- Oct 2015 and Oct. 2016 Amanda Whalen Chief of Staff Portland Public Schools