Investigation finds Beaufort school district violated federal regulations in treatment of students

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Investigation finds Beaufort school district violated federal regulations in treatment of students

By RACHEL HEATON
rheaton@beaufortgazette.com
Published Thursday, August 23, 2012   |  608 Words  |  

A S.C. Department of Education investigation determined the Beaufort County School District has violated federal regulations in its treatment of disabled students.

The investigation was prompted by complaints filed by the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of five students.

The state department also detailed changes the district must make to comply with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. They include training for administrators and teachers, and a review of its individually tailored plans for special-education students.

The district already is working to make those changes, some of which must be made by Aug. 30, according to spokesman Jim Foster. Several days of training on federal regulations have already been completed by teachers and principals, he said.

The state department will monitor the district's progress toward those goals and will prescribe more corrective action if needed, according to deputy general counsel Barbara Drayton, who participated in the investigation.

The department investigated the complaints of five students who attend Lady's Island Middle, Robert Smalls Middle and Mossy Oaks Elementary schools. The complaints were filed in June.

It also did a broader investigation of the district's treatment of disabled students, mostly based on review of some students' files and interviews with district staff.

The state has not released its examination of the specific complaints, which alleged that the district has denied services to some students and subjected them to unnecessarily harsh discipline, because of privacy concerns. Attempts Wednesday and Thursday to reach S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center officials were unsuccessful.

The broader investigation revealed that:

  • Some disabled students who were suspended for 10 or more days did not receive the necessary special education services during that time.
  • Some students' "individualized education plans" -- plans developed for the education of each disabled student by their parents and district staff -- and progress goals were not adequately updated or did not address a lack of progress.
  • When a student was suspended for 10 or more days, their IEPs were not updated to include additional services.
  • Students' behavioral progress, or lack of progress, was not reviewed, nor were counseling services considered.
  • There's no documentation to suggest IEP teams regularly consider whether students need any counseling beyond what can be provided by the district's guidance counselors. Further, some files did not include a measurable goal when counseling was recommended.
  • The state department did not address the allegations that black disabled students are suspended at a higher rate than white disabled students. That's an issue for the federal Office for Civil Rights, department officials said.

    District officials said that in many cases, the problems center on a lack of documentation.

    "I think we do some of these services, but we don't document them, and all things have to be documented," said Brenda Hunt, the director of special education.

    Fixing the problems will be time-consuming, Hunt said. Although the district has conducted annual training on IDEA compliance, Hunt's hoping the significance of the state education department's findings will drive the point home.

    "It is an all-hands-on-deck, all-eyes-on-the-paperwork situation," she said.

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