The Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) failure to provide accurate information to parents continues.
June 3, 2017, I made VDOE aware of bad/broken links in its “Parent’s Guide to Special Education Dispute Resolution” document.
Almost four years later, the bad/broken link in question— https://www.doe.virginia.gov/VDOE/dueproc—is still listed 11 times in the parent’s guide and still goes to an error 404 page.
Negative Impact on Families
I used the guide when I filed my first state complaint in 2017. I clicked on the link to access the model state complaint form—a model form that SEA’s are required to provide per Sec 300.509 of IDEA—and ended up on an error 404 page. (For additional information, see “U.S. Department of Education State Complaint Procedures State Complaint Procedures” below.)
VDOE subsequently penalized me for not using its form, even though parents are not required to use the model form, per Sec 300.509 of IDEA—and even though VDOE’s own link to its model form was bad/broken. (For additional information, see “U.S. Department of Education State Complaint Procedures State Complaint Procedures” below.)
On 5.31.17, VDOE issued a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) that cited a failure to use a form. The LOI was received after the expiration of the one-year time limit for state complaints. I opposed VDOE’s decision and action, but VDOE refused to consider the complaint since it was over the one-year mark.
VDOE Cited for Problems with Information Presentation, Accessibility, and Accuracy
October 5, 2020, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) released a report titled “Operations and Performance of the Virginia Department of Education“.
The report indicates, “much of the website’s information is out of date” and “VDOE should periodically review content to ensure it is current, relevant, accessible, and intuitively organized.” These quotes appear in the excerpt below, which is from pages 26 and 27 of the report:
VDOE could more effectively communicate available support and resources
VDOE offers potentially useful technical assistance and resources but could improve communication to school divisions about them. This is most clearly evidenced by the agency website, a lack of a centralized menu of available support resources, lack of a central clearinghouse for sharing of useful information, and the technical assistance emails (and other resources) that are distributed to school divisions and their staff.
VDOE’s website is not fully useful but is in the process of being redesigned
VDOE’s website includes a tremendous amount of information, but some of it is out-of-date, and the website is difficult to navigate. A recent analysis (conducted by VDOE) found that the website contained approximately 11,000 web pages and thousands of documents (18,000 PDFs, 7,000 Microsoft Word documents, 1,000 Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, and 1,000 Microsoft Excel spreadsheets).
Much of the website’s information is out of date. For example, guidelines for state sponsored teacher mentorship programs are dated June 2000, and information to help school divisions create their School Nutrition Programs Annual Agreement is dated 2011. Division staff and VDOE staff noted their frustration with accessing information on the website. VDOE staff members said: “Our website is too large and therefore does not serve the public well,” and “The VDOE website is not user-friendly, and it’s hard to find information.”
VDOE is currently redesigning the website through the help of a third-party contractor. Agency leadership anticipates this will help organize content and improve staff ’s capacity to manage updates. However, during and after the redesign, VDOE will remain responsible for managing website content. To best ensure the website redesign process improves the website’s usefulness and includes accurate and up-to-date information, VDOE should periodically review content to ensure it is current, relevant, accessible, and intuitively organized. VDOE could do so by requiring staff from each office to periodically review whether the sections of the website for which their office is responsible are accurate, concise, and up-to-date; then suggest changes as needed. Sharing the responsibility of reviewing the website across applicable office staff could help to relieve the burden on the agency’s single web services manager, who is primarily responsible for maintaining the VDOE website.
The Virginia Department of Education should periodically review its website to ensure the content is current, relevant, accessible, and intuitively organized.
December 14, 2020, JLARC released another report connected to VDOE. This one is titled K-12 Special Education in Virginia and cites problems with VDOE’s website and with accessibility and accuracy of information.
Page 99 includes a sidebar of Recommedation 4 from JLARC’s 10.5.20 report, as well as the following:
One of the reasons parents may be unaware of state-level supports available is that the information about their rights and the dispute resolution processes on VDOE’s website is not readily apparent. For example, as of October 2020, the Virginia Procedural Safeguards Notice, which explains parents’ and students’ special education rights, is made available on two VDOE webpages, both of which contained at least 50 other links, all of which are highlighted in red but are of varying levels of importance. Implementation of Recommendation 4 of JLARC’s 2020 report Operations and Performance of the Virginia Department of Education, which directs VDOE to periodically review its website, could help ensure that parents are able to more easily locate the resources already available on VDOE’s website (sidebar).
Months and Years Later
In a 12.18.20 email, Samantha Hollins, VDOE’s assistant superintendent, department of special education and student services, stated:
“The Parent’s Guide to Special Education Dispute Resolution document is in the process of being updated.”
As of today, almost four years after I made VDOE aware of bad/broken links, almost four months after the release of the October 2020 report, and almost two months after the release of the December 2020 report, the same problem exists, with the same guide forwarding parents to a 404 error page instead of to the help they need.
“U.S. Department of Education State Complaint Procedures State Complaint Procedures”
Click on image below to view the “U.S. Department of Education State Complaint Procedures State Complaint Procedures” document.