By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) When a Colorado Department of Education state compliance officer investigated the case of a second-grader who'd been restrained in a small room for countless hours, she found the DougCo school district lacked the required policies and procedures meant to uphold federal disability law.
"The lack of written special education policies and procedures raises concerns that the district is not ensuring staff complies with federal disability law (IDEA)," wrote Ashley Schubert.
The report highlighted that the district doesn't have specific policies for reviewing and revising students' Individualized Education Plans.
In Christine Nichol's case, Wildcat Mountain Elementary (WME) staff moved her son out of the classroom without involving his IEP team and his parent, a clear violation of the law.
They also failed to provide the prior written notice required when a district "proposes to change the educational placement of a child."
According to the U.S. Department of Education, "The IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 7.5 million (as of the school year 2020-21) eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities."
The law ensures children with disabilities, from learning to physical to behavioral, are protected and that districts must provide services to meet their needs and give them a free and appropriate public education.
Districts failing to comply with the law stand to lose funding to help provide those services.
Unable to find documented training compliance
Schubert also found it challenging to determine if special education teachers and staff had the proper training and what training they'd received.
"Though the district indicated it follows the IDEA and other CDE guidance, the lack of written policies and procedures makes it difficult to determine whether any other erroneous practices exist and what training is being provided to staff," she wrote.
The complaint found the Affective Needs teacher and a paraprofessional working in the classroom at WME had let their crisis prevention training, as required by the Protection of Pupils Rights Amendment, expire without consequence.
Paula Hans, DSCD public information officer, said, "Neither federal nor state law requires districts to implement specific policies mirroring these requirements.
"Consistent with its legal obligations, the district provides extensive training to both district- and school-level staff on the procedural and substantive requirements of the law."
However, Shubert noted, "Under the protection act, school districts bear responsibility for ensuring staff who use restraint complete training at least every two years. Though the district may require relevant staff to complete training every two years, the district lacks any system to ensure staff comply with the requirement."
Use of classroom-wide disciplinary strategies
Schubert also noted that the district's lack of policies and procedures makes it difficult to know what guidance staff receives about disciplinary strategies used in the classroom.
The teacher implicated in Nichol's case implemented a level system for her students. Students on Level 1 had to earn 80 percent on their point sheet to earn recess, lunch in the cafeteria, and specials.
Higher-level students could move down if they demonstrated physically aggressive behavior.
Schubert notes that level systems are okay to use if they are developed by the IEP team and suited to the student's needs, but one-size-fits-all systems violate disability law.
It's also against district policy to deny any student recess as a form of discipline.
Policy ADGF-R states, "Schools may not allow forced physical activity, or alternatively, withhold allotted time for physical activity--including participation in recess--as a consequence for student misconduct."
Schubert ordered DougCo schools to submit a corrective action plan to address the violations in the decision.
The director of special education, behavioral specialist, principal, and all school special education staff must complete CDE-provided training on reviewing and revising IEPs and placing students in the least restrictive environment by February 23, 2023.
The district has to write policies and procedures for revising and reviewing IEPs, placement of students, and using leveled systems by May 12, 2023.
The same staff must also complete CDE's training on PPRA's documentation and notification requirements by February 24, 2023. And the district has to write policies for monitoring ongoing staff compliance with PPRA-required training.
"DCSD special education staff and related service providers are dedicated and committed to partnering with CDE to improve student outcomes.
"As a result, we are providing ongoing training for new and current staff, creating new guidance districtwide, and reviewing and revising practices as needed," said Hans.
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