Special ed e-mail to be probed by state

The California Department of Education will investigate whether the San Francisco Unified School District improperly denied summer school services to students with special needs to curb costs, violating federal regulations, officials said.

The state investigation follows a report by the Bay Citizen that Lisa Miller, the district’s head of middle school special education, directed teachers and staff to consult with her before authorizing summer school for students with disabilities, saying the cost had become “exorbitant.”

“My big concern is whether they’re doing something illegal, in which case they have to correct it,” said Donna DeMartini, an education programs specialist at the Department of Education who will lead the investigation.

Some special education teachers and attorneys said the directive – issued in a Jan. 4 e-mail obtained by the Bay Citizen – violated the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which prohibits administrators from influencing a student’s education plan or denying services based on cost.

DeMartini has been reviewing the San Francisco district’s special education practices since last year, partly in response to complaints that some students had not received federally mandated services. The state has reviewed the education plans of about 80 of the district’s more than 6,000 students with special needs and found that the district had violated more than 100 state and federal regulations.

In an e-mail Tuesday, school district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe responded to allegations that Miller’s directive violated the law.

“Some staff were in the habit of offering (summer school) to any special education student, rather than applying the law correctly,” she wrote. “Ms. Miller did not singlehandedly make the decision to address this issue. The district is training staff in how to analyze an offer” of summer school.

According to the district, 2,695 special education students were offered summer services this year. Officials would not say how many actually received them.

“No specific parent has had any grievance with the district” about summer school special education since Miller sent her e-mail, Blythe wrote.

The Bay Citizen is part of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. For more, go to www.baycitizen.org. E-mail: tbundy@baycitizen.org

Special ed e-mail to be probed by state – SFGate.

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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