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As my family found out, KY schools are denying services to gifted children | Opinion

If you’ve ever wondered why Kentucky can’t seem to get out of the bottom rankings of schools nationwide, at least part of the answer is now clear. I now have proof that when it comes to gifted education, Fayette County Public Schools is not only violating state laws and refusing to follow the Kentucky Board of Education’s Administrative Regulations, they’re not even following their own policies. At times, they even intentionally lie to parents about their own policies.

Legally, it’s the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) job to enforce state education legislation and administrative regulations. Unfortunately, even the state’s enforcement apparatus has been part of the problem, at least where it concerns gifted education, and that has allowed FCPS, and potentially other districts, to ignore the law with impunity for years.

Here’s the situation we’ve run into, and perhaps your family has as well. Last year, my then-kindergartner was so far ahead academically, we looked into skipping first grade. Skipping a grade in academic jargon is called “Whole Grade Acceleration” (WGA). We, perhaps naively, thought this would simply be a matter of ensuring we jumped through the required hoops. We thought wrong.

Despite the surreal experience of teachers, gifted staff, and an administrator sabotaging us along the way, my daughter passed all the initial assessments required of her anyway, including a test demonstrating she was a qualifier for Mensa. So how could this student get denied WGA? FCPS decided to give my 5 year-old girl a test designed for 8 year-olds. Not sure why the district didn’t just give her the SAT. Of course, FCPS didn’t tell us they gave her such a high-level test. As a former teacher, her much lower than usual scores shocked me, and I asked for test details. As a guy who can read the law and do research, the answer to that question led to my investigation. Turns out, the gifted regulation from the state Board of Ed 704 KAR 3:285 (3)(7-8) prohibits districts from using tests to deny students from accessing gifted services.

Ultimately, I filed a grievance with FCPS and began conversations with KDE, whose job it is to enforce the law with non-compliant districts. First, the law: KRS 157.224 is a state law that gives both gifted children and those with disabilities the right to a state hearing over disputes with districts. Despite statutorily-empowered rules from the Kentucky Board of Education that explicitly state otherwise, KDE interpreted KRS 157.244 to mean that only kids with disabilities have a right to a hearing under that statute. Who knows how many Kentucky parents have been wrongly told their district is unaccountable to gifted children’s rights?

However, after some email “leg-work” and then a very detailed legal demand upon KDE for a hearing, I proved that a state court would interpret KRS 157.224 otherwise. On Jan. 13, KDE notified Superintendent Liggins that they would be granting a hearing on the matter. On Jan. 17, KDE reversed course, emailed us back and said the email about a hearing was an “error” so we would not get one. When you wonder why education outcomes in Kentucky are poor, is it because districts violate the law and even when confronted with clear evidence, the enforcement agency of the state willfully ignores it?

After speaking with a number of local school and district officials, none of them were surprised FCPS was breaking the law on gifted education, which tells me there are likely violations all over the place. This paper has reported on some odd financing issues in the past, and upon his initial election, I do recall the current board chair demanding an audit, but he seemed to quiet down about that. I’d like to think KDE would use these clearly intentional violations of gifted law as cause to deploy a Special Education Mentor to FCPS under KRS 157.197 & KRS 157.224(2) to determine how deep the rot is and enforce compliance. Sadly, I now know they won’t. I do believe the state courts could resolve this problem if we can find an attorney willing to take on KDE.

I can leave you with some good news, at least for now: Fayette middle and high schools are being told they will begin staffing gifted resource teachers for their students for the first time. Contact your school to find out how your children can qualify for gifted services.

Barry Saturday
Barry Saturday

Barry Saturday has served the Lexington community as a social studies teacher, financial advisor, past HOA President, and 2022 candidate for city council.