State Wants Information On School's Special Ed Students

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - The state is examining whether an Akron-based charter school is really enrolling special ed students and deserves the extra funding they receive for those children, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

In its review of Summit Academy's Akron and Parma schools this year and late last year, the Ohio Department of Education found students in Parma labeled with disabilities that the state says were unjustified, the newspaper reported Sunday.

In March, the department identified $344,100 the schools received for students with multiple disabilities.

"In a number of cases, the procedures used by the Summit Academy Parma Community School do not conform to the procedures and eligibility criteria outlined ... for the identification of students with disabilities," David Varda, associate superintendent for the education department's Center for School Finance and Accountability, said in a letter.

Peter DiMezza, chief executive of the eight-school system, said he stands by Summit's diagnoses of children. He said public schools have not properly evaluated many students.

"What's happened is these kids are coming to us having been failed by the schools and not given their proper identification for special ed," DiMezza said Monday. "When we take them and do our evaluations, we find that they do indeed qualify for certain things."

DiMezza said that after he made a lengthy presentation about the school's methods for identification, the state told him he would owe no money. A message was left with Varda seeking further comment.

Scott Romans, an attorney for the Akron city schools, asked the state auditor last month to investigate Summit Academy.

The district is collecting information for use in the audit but is not taking a position on whether Summit Academy was wrong, district spokeswoman Karen Ingraham said on Monday.

"It is a concern that children may be incorrectly tested but all we're trying to do is assist them in an audit," she said.

The education department said it is offering "technical assistance" to DiMezza to improve record keeping at his Akron and Parma schools.

"We are still evaluating our findings and working with the schools," education department spokesman J.C. Benton told the newspaper. "We have follow-up questions with the schools to collect some of their data in regard to these special-ed students they say that they have."

Summit Academy runs schools for children needing special ed classes in Akron, Canton, Lorain, Middletown, Parma, Xenia and Youngstown.

The schools enroll about 450 children in second through eighth grades.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)