The Madison Metropolitan School District is under scrutiny following a series of complaints filed by parents questioning the legitimacy of the process to identify which students are eligible for the district’s gifted and talented program.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction spokesperson Patrick Gasper said DPI received complaints from parents claiming MMSD was not compliant in a variety of areas including the gifted and talented program, prompting further investigation by DPI.

DPI conducted an outside program which found four particular areas the district had failed to comply with, including not establishing a plan and designated person to plan and coordinate the program, not identifying gifted and talented pupils and not providing access without charge for tuition to students identified as gifted and talented. The study also found failure to provide an opportunity for parental participation in the gifted and talented selection process.

“From the investigation completed in March, we gave the district 45 days to request a public hearing, and if they don’t, our preliminary findings and report become final,” Gasper said.

Carole Trone, Program Director of the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth, said the statute requiring districts to identify students who exhibit exceptional ability pertains to five different areas of giftedness and then provides programming for these students.

The group of parents that filed the complaint believed the district was not adequately following these requirements, and the investigation DPI conducted gave the district a total of 90 days to respond.

The time frame is designed so that the district can appropriately respond to the parents’ concerns and discuss the requested corrections while simultaneously encouraging other members of the community to get involved and see for themselves what the program is, Trone said.

She said there is still a misconception among the public about what defines a gifted child and why he or she need programming as well as why that might even be an issue for some parents, and this investigation will provide a better understanding for the community.

“One good, constructive thing that can come from this is that it raises the community’s awareness,” Trone said. “Hopefully there’s a better understanding in the community that all students, regardless of their abilities, should be challenged and all students deserve to have a curriculum that is appropriate and challenging and rigorous in the ways that they need.”

Still, MMSD spokesperson Ken Syke said the parents’ complaints came in the middle of the district already revamping the gifted and talented program, targeting June of next year to have the changes implemented.

As part of a strategic plan outlined two years ago, the district was planning to improve the gifted and talented program regardless, with or without the set of parents who came forward to complain.

Now with the DPI investigation underway, the plan was accelerated to ensure completion within the 90-day designated time frame.

While the complaints stemmed from an accusation that the district was not complying with the statutes of the gifted and talented program, Syke said the district does still provide a variety of services for students who appear to be exceptional in a certain topic as well as services throughout all grade levels.

“One of the complaints was that we don’t have a system for determining which students are talented and gifted, but this is not an easy line to draw and not an easy distinction to make,” Syke said.