Special Education Complaints Going Throught the Roof
by Gregory Branch
The federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has just released a new report, Disability Rights Enforcement Highlights, and it reveals among other interesting findings that during the three year period from 2009-2011, it received more disability complaints than during any other three year period in its history.
During this time, OCR received over 11,700 disability complaints, which comprised 55% of the total overall complaints received. The other 45% of the claims received were related to other areas of OCR enforcement in areas such as national origin, race, age, and sex.
Based on the report, it is clear that the vast majority of disability complaints were in the area of FAPE, Free and Appropriate Public Education. FAPE questions concern whether a district has offered a special needs child an educational program from which the student can obtain at least some minimal benefit. If not, the student has been denied FAPE. Of the 11,700 disability complains, 4678 were devoted to FAPE questions, or roughly 40%. Other high complaint areas were exclusion, retaliation, and academic adjustment. During this three year span, the OCR launched 15 FAPE related investigations of its own.
Here are examples of some of the investigations based on complaints received by OCR.
Academic Adjustment: An HIV positive student alleged that his college discriminated against him by dismissing him from its medical office technology program. One of the required classes for it mandated that the students draw blood from one another, and the school dropped the young man due to safety concerns. In order to resolve the complaint, the school agreed to re-enroll the student, consider the student’s request for the academic adjustment of not having other students draw his blood, and provide the college’s staff with training on the necessity of providing academic adjustments to disabled students.
FAPE: OCR facilitated Early Complaint Resolution where parents alleged that a school district had not faithfully implemented their child’s IEP (individualized educational program) who qualified for services due to a mood disorder. Based on these efforts, the district agreed to schedule an IEP to discuss the parent’s concerns and to provide notice to the teachers of the requirement that they implement the IEP.
Harassment: Parents filed a complaint based on harassment they alleged their student had received due to a disability related body odor issue. The child had been previously diagnosed due to Fragile X Syndrome, ADD, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Tourette’s Syndrome. The complaint alleged that based on the body odor issue, the student had been detained by school staff who made her take a shower prior to attending class, had staff spray air freshener on her in front of other students, and be sent home prior to the end of the day due to her body odor. After OCR facilitated Early Complaint Resolution, the school district agreed to train staff regarding the student’s disabilities, enroll the student in its Senior Life Skills course, offer weekly social work services, and assist the student in finding community employment.