District receives $4 million grant to enhance education for students with disabilities

Dec. 19, 2023 – A $4 million federal research grant is bolstering the district’s efforts to provide equitable access to education for students with disabilities.

Duval County Public Schools was one of 45 recipients across the country to receive an Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant. The purpose of the grant is to help educational institutions nationwide address learning loss and inequity.

For Team Duval leaders, the key to increasing equity among students with disabilities is equipping teachers with great tools and training.  

“We currently provide training to assist educators in implementing best practices for students with disabilities,” said Rebekah Wallis, a district supervisor on the Exceptional Student Education (ESE) team. “The training includes everything from lesson planning and teaching strategies to how to equitably grade and assess student progress. We want teachers to know specifically how to help these students.”

This is where the EIR grant comes in. Due to low staffing levels, the ESE team is limited in how often it can provide that training to teachers. But with the $4 million in funding, the district can expand training opportunities by hiring additional ESE specialists and purchasing training material and supplies.

ESE leaders say this will lead to greater educational experience for students; especially those in classrooms that include both students with disabilities and students without disabilities; also known as “inclusive” classrooms. According to ESE Director Amy Valentine, about 80% of students with disabilities who attend DCPS schools currently receive services in inclusive classrooms.  

“We want to keep students in those inclusive settings because we know that’s where they’re exposed to the most rigorous instruction,” said Valentine. “This environment mirrors what happens in adulthood, and it helps prepare children to be successful in adulthood.”

Wallis agrees, saying this is backed up by substantial research.

“Every single study that’s been done about inclusion indicates that when students with disabilities are included with their general education peers, both groups of students have higher outcomes,” said Wallis.  “Not only with academic achievement, but also social and emotional skills.”

Paring inclusion with training for educators is imperative. In addition to the benefits to students, Wallis said the training helps teachers have higher professional satisfaction.

“Lesson plans are stronger,” said Wallis. “There’s reduced feelings of stress and isolation. They are able to collaborate effectively with their peers. This only happens when inclusion is done the right way.”

This is the district second EIR grant. Learn more about how these research grants are addressing academic recovery across the country.

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