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Settlement Reached in Special Education Complaint Against Pawtucket School District

Posted: December 22, 2010|Category: Students' Rights

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In response to a civil rights complaint filed by Rhode Island Legal Services and the Rhode Island ACLU, the Pawtucket School District has entered into a consent agreement to revise its practices governing the evaluation of special education students.

Earlier this year, RILS and the ACLU filed a class-action administrative civil rights complaint challenging the school district’s practice of routinely destroying documents related to the evaluations conducted to determine whether a child has a disability, and if so, the nature of the educational services needed by that child. The documents that were being destroyed included the notes and observations of the evaluators, the children’s answer sheets, and other raw data on which the school’s final written reports were based. As a result, parents never had the opportunity to review the documents that led to determinations regarding a child’s special education needs and services.

The complaint, filed with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, argued that the policy was a violation of federal regulations and had the improper effect of preventing parents from forming an independent judgment about the accuracy of the school evaluations. The evaluation reports form the basis on which a child’s eligibility for services and the nature of services provided are determined, yet the parent never had the opportunity to review the underlying documents leading to those determinations.

The DOE’s Office for Civil Rights investigated the allegations and has now indicated that a resolution agreement remedying the allegations has been entered into with the school district. Under the settlement agreement, the school district has agreed to develop a policy to retain all the evaluation documents it had previously been destroying; to notify parents of their right to review those documents; to offer to conduct new special education evaluations of students in those instances where the documents had been destroyed; and to provide training to all staff about the new policies. The agreement also sets a timeframe for meeting all of these requirements, which the Office of Civil Rights “will monitor until fully implemented.”

RILS attorney Veronika Kot said today: “Parents of children with disabilities are equal participants in decision making about the services their children may need to achieve good educational outcomes. They have the right to full and equal access to the information that forms the basis for such decisions. The resolution of this complaint is a welcome reaffirmation of these

rights.” RI ACLU volunteer attorney Amy R. Tabor added: “This resolution sends a message to all school districts in Rhode Island that they cannot adopt document-destruction or document-withholding policies that deprive parents of their right to full access to their child’s educational records.”

In light of the agreement, the organizations plan to ask the state Department of Education to remind all other school districts of their obligations under the federal law to maintain and allow parental access to these evaluation records.

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