The Education Dept.s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reaches an out-of-court settlement the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools in California over compliance issues involving students with disabilities in alternative and juvenile court schools.
An OCR investigation found that the county discriminated against students with disabilities in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, said Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for OCR.
“All students, including students in alternative and juvenile court schools, deserve equal access to a high-quality public education,” Lhamon said. “In providing strong and effective systems to identify, evaluate, and serve students with disabilities, these schools can stop the cycle of revolving placements and remove them from the school-to-prison pipeline.”
San Bernardino County is the largest county in the United States by geographic area (20,164 square miles). The county directly operates 14 community schools and two juvenile court schools.
OCR’s compliance review examined the county’s process for ensuring that each student with a disability receives an appropriate education. It looked at special education plans for students who have them when they enter a court or community school.
The office found violations because the county:
- Lacked an adequate system to identify and evaluate students with suspected disabilities.
- Failed to comply with the legal requirement to conduct an individualized determination of student needs for students with disabilities.
- Provided a fixed predetermined amount of specialized instructional time that a student would receive, automatically reducing any higher service levels provided for in individual student special education plans.
- Failed to implement the specialized instruction and related services, such as speech therapy, required in existing individualized education programs (IEPs), and did not have a system in place to track services.
- Failed to have a reliable system for monitoring evaluation and reevaluation requests.
- Failed to have a reliable system for recording records from transferring districts that identify students with disabilities and required services.
- Failed to train staff on the requirements related to Section 504 and relied on paraeducators instead of special education teachers to provide specialized instruction to students with disabilities.
In addition, students with disabilities who do not receive services and supports necessary to address disability-related behavioral issues may unnecessarily and unfairly suffer exclusionary school discipline. In response to this concern, the county agreed to develop a system to ensure that students with disabilities are not impermissibly disciplined on the basis of their disabilities.
During the course of OCR’s investigation, the county took proactive and significant steps to address some concerns OCR identified. For example, it has already begun implementation of identification, training and tracking systems for students identified with disabilities.
The resolution agreement requires the county, among other things, to:
Implement a standard record keeping system.
Hire a qualified project manager to work with the county to develop a needs assessment and action plan for addressing the issues identified with implementation of IEP/Section 504 plans.
Develop a comprehensive monitoring and assessment system for special education and related services placement.
Review existing IEPs of current students to assess whether IEP/Section 504 plans were changed improperly.
Revise policies and procedures to ensure they are consistent with Section 504 and Title II and their implementing regulations, conduct training for paraeducators regarding their duties and responsibilities, and convene a joint meeting between special education program staff and the county.
Info: http://goo.gl/4WUb3w (agreement).