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Schools make grade in random inspection

Ashley McKnight-Taylor

Since the end of February, two of Suffolk Public School’s departments were reviewed by the Virginia Department of Education as part of regular mandatory monitoring.

The Office of Federal Program Monitoring conducted an onsite civil rights review of Career and Technical Education in the high schools from Feb. 28 through March 2.

The DOE is required to periodically conduct such reviews of all state schools, said Dr. Lynn Cross, assistant superintendent in charge of secondary instructional services. Suffolk was one of four school systems to be randomly selected this year.

The purpose of the review was to determine the school’s compliance with laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, national origin, gender or disability.

The review relied on data documentation and interviews, Cross said. DOE officials interviewed 61 staff members and 24 students. They conducted three-hour onsite visits at each high school and the P.D. Pruden Center for Industry and Technology.

The findings “were very favorable,” Cross told members of the school board at their April 6 meeting.

The review determined that Suffolk Public Schools actively promote equality, and “no evidence of discrimination was found,” she said.

The school system also was commended on the diversity of its staff.

Board Member Fran Alwood said, “That’s something to be very proud of.”

It did, however, point out a few areas where the school system needs work. DOE officials said Suffolk should publish an annual summary of the career and technical education program offerings, adding Title IX compliance office-contact information.

They suggested more widespread posting of the non-discrimination policy and adding the contact information for the individual who oversees it (Assistant Superintendent Kevin Alston).

They also found just a couple of handicapped accessibility issues with doors and handrails at two schools, most of which had already been fixed, Cross said.

Superintendent Milton Liverman said that they never know what to expect when the DOE conducts a review, but in this case it went smoothly.

“We were very pleased with the results,” he said.

The DOE also reviewed the school system’s Special Education department. The onsite visits and interviews were conducted two weeks ago. Officials still are awaiting the full results of that report, which should be complete in about four weeks.

The preliminary results were promising, though.

“They found no areas to site us for compliance concerns,” said Sandra Witcher, director of special education. “They were very impressed that we conduct local academic reviews that include IEP portfolios.”

Board Member Bill Hill said these reports should give the public added confidence in the school division.