A complaint filed by two advocacy groups alleging the Beaufort County School District unfairly punished disabled students details five cases and calls for an independent expert to oversee changes.
The complaint was filed June 12 with the state Education Department by the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The district has turned over student records to the state department, which is investigating, district spokesman Jim Foster said. Foster would not comment further on the allegations, citing the investigation.
According to the complaint, five students in northern Beaufort County schools have been subject to multiple suspensions following discipline incidents, but they have not received counseling or had plans implemented to correct their behavior, a requirement of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
In most cases, the students' individualized education plans were only modified months after suspensions or barely modified at all. Many of the changes to the plans called for reactive, not proactive, measures, the complaint says.
Four of the students attended Lady's Island Middle School for all or part of the 2011-12 school year.
Two were suspended for calling 911 from a classroom. After their guardians sought legal advice, the students were able to return to school, but the changes made to their education plans were minimal, and necessary services such as counseling weren't provided, the complaint alleges.
Another Lady's Island Middle student with a history of discipline issues was put in the "PRIDE" program, an alternative-school setting, without the notification of his education plan team. While in the program, he did not receive the services his plan called for, the complaint says.
Because of continued frustration with how the student's behavior was being managed, the family moved out of state with a week left in the school year to find a public school that would provide the student with the services he needed, the complaint says.
A student at Mossy Oaks Elementary School also is included in the complaint. Despite having a multi-step plan to manage her behavior, she was suspended as a kindergartner with no evidence of the techniques being used, the complaint alleges.
According to the complaint, her plan was reviewed several times, and other tactics were employed during the 2011-12 school year when she was in first grade.
But the techniques were more reactive than proactive, the complaint says; she was frequently suspended from school, and her parents were called regularly to pick her up early. The girl was suspended for more than 20 days that school year.
Four of the five students are black. The complaint also alleges that black disabled students are disproportionately subjected to in-school and out-of-school suspensions, based on 2009 data from the federal Office for Civil Rights.
Foster has said that an annual performance report determined the district did not have a "significant discrepancy" in the rate of suspensions and expulsions of disabled students.
The complaint calls for several changes if the district is found to be in violation of federal law.
It asks that an expert in education of emotionally and behaviorally disabled children develop, oversee and track a plan to change the district's approach to disciplining disabled students.
The state Education Department must complete its investigation by Aug. 13 -- 60 days after the complaint is filed, according to federal law.