College Station Independent School District (CSISD) in College Station, TX, needed a more efficient way to manage content for its Special Services Department to provide students with timely, specialized assistance. “Everything we do is designed to ensure that the special education student is on the same playing field as a regular education student,” stresses Technical Assistant Nancy Boller, who is responsible for maintaining compliant student records.
The confidential information contained in a special education student’s file is vital to CSISD’s special education teachers. “It’s important that those working with students in Special Services understand what modifications need to be in place and what each student needs to succeed in class. That information resides in our students’ files, so maintaining them properly is a top priority for us.”
With an overflowing amount of paperwork, stored offsite as well as taking up space onsite, keeping these confidential records organized, secure and easily accessible was a massive problem. “I used to get paper cuts and a strained neck from sorting through boxes for hours to satisfy a request for information,” says Boller.
Costly Paper Trails
“We’re required to keep our students’ files for seven years after they leave our district,” Boller explains. As a result, the department housed thousands of inactive files in offsite storage—costing several thousand dollars a year.
“Annual placement review meeting reports alone can be anywhere from 10-30 pages long. Some students are in the district from age three until age 22, so they get reviewed 18 or 19 times,” Boller explains. “The bulk of content we have to manage, just in our inactive files, is incredible.”
In addition to yearly placement meeting reports, each student’s file includes federally protected information such as:
- Special Education testing (required every three years).
- Medical records.
- Disciplinary information.
To satisfy requests for information, Special Services staff used to go to the warehouse and search through boxes, or, in some cases, warehouse staff would bring 10-15 boxes from the offsite storage room to the department so that staff could sort through them to find the requested information. Once located, the department made copies of the entire file (sometimes hundreds of pages) and paid to mail it to the requesting school district. “At $5 or $6 a package, the cost adds up,” Boller says.
Transition to Technology
After learning about Laserfiche enterprise content management (ECM) software from an employee in the purchasing warehouse, the Special Services Department acquired bids from two other content management providers and then evaluated the software during demos and presentations. “We needed a solution that would not only keep our records safe and accessible, but would also be easy to use for a variety of staff. Laserfiche was the best fit for our needs,” Boller says.
“At first I was a little skeptical,” she admits, explaining that some of the long-time employees were especially hesitant to switch to digitized content. “But we received lots of help from SMARTfiles, our Laserfiche reseller. Scanning in all the files was faster and easier than I expected, and the end results of using Laserfiche make it well worth the investment of both time and money.”
Secure Access Saves Time
One of the biggest benefits of deploying Laserfiche for CSISD’s Special Services Department is that content is both more secure and easier to share with authorized personnel. “When a dyslexia specialist or a special education teacher needs to access an active record that was previously stored in one of 40 boxes, she’s now able to access that information online, right from her classroom,” Boller explains.
Because only authorized personnel can access the files stored in Laserfiche, confidential information is secure and protected. Plus, Boller says, “With student information in electronic format, it’s so much easier to provide it to new schools and districts if the student moves. The transfer of information is prompt, so students’ services aren’t interrupted.” She notes that smooth, continued service is particularly key to accommodating student needs.
CSISD uses the Texas Education Agency’s state-wide record request system, Texas Records Exchange (TREx), to send and receive student information across the state’s educational system. “We’re now able to export files from Laserfiche to PDFs, then upload them to the TREx system for delivery. We no longer have to scan in pages one by one. It’s so much faster and easier—and it doesn’t tie up the Xerox machines all day!”
In addition, CSISD uses Laserfiche Audit Trail to ease the burden of complying with federal record retention regulations and mandates. “The government can come in and audit us at any time,” says Boller. “Electronic records are much easier to locate thanks to the organized file structure, granular search capability and secure access we get through Laserfiche.”
Prepared for the Unexpected
While Laserfiche is able to reduce CSISD’s paper clutter and provide instant, secure access to student records, Boller brings up another interesting benefit of implementation. “In our region, we have to keep in mind that natural disasters occur. For instance, some schools lost all their paper records when Hurricane Ike came though.”
In order to create new or replacement files for special education students, the students must be retested. Retesting can take anywhere from four to 12 hours—not including the time it takes to do the paperwork. To get a child into the Special Services system, Boller says it can take as long as 60 days.
“Digital files aren’t as fragile as paper,” Boller says. “With Laserfiche, we don’t have to worry that our students will lose ground after a natural disaster.”
Although CSISD’s Special Services Department currently uses Laserfiche mostly for inactive records management, Boller says the department is moving toward managing all active files in Laserfiche. “After seeing what Laserfiche can do, we can’t wait to take it to the next level. Laserfiche has made our jobs more efficient, which in turn helps students—and that’s our main priority.
“Laserfiche allows us to better manage the sheer volume of paperwork we have, but our added needs for confidentiality and easy access make the system essential for Special Services,” she concludes.