District submits proof of some changes in treatment of disabled students

rheaton@islandpacket.comAugust 31, 2012 

The Beaufort County School District has updated procedures for documenting disciplinary actions of disabled students and has trained more than 100 principals, counselors, social workers and psychologists in two weeks in response to a recent investigation.

The changes follow a state Department of Education investigation that found the district had violated federal regulations governing treatment of disabled students.

The district faced a deadline Friday to train some district staff to respond to recurring behavior problems of disabled students. The district also had to prove it has a plan to ensure its staff considers disabled students' needs for counseling when discussing "individualized education plans" -- plans developed for the education of each disabled student by their parents and district staff.

On Friday, district officials submitted memos sent to school administrators and staff, lists of staff members who attended training, training materials, and other documentation to the state department.

The district faces more deadlines. By Sept. 30, it must have held individualized education-plan meetings for some students identified in the investigation and have developed a way to ensure special-education students receive needed services even when suspended, among other requirements.

The state department detailed several instances in which the district failed to meet requirements of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Its investigation was prompted by complaints filed in June by the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of five students.

Amanda Adler, an Appleseed attorney, said the state department's findings and recommended corrective actions present a chance for the school district to make real changes.

But the required changes don't go quite far enough, she said. Someone should be appointed to monitor the district. The district should also create a better way for parents to report complaints about the treatment of special-education students, she said.

Adler called the investigation "thorough" and said she was pleased the department looked at children's individualized education plans that weren't part of the original complaints. The findings, she said, indicate a "systemic" problem.

District officials have said that in many cases, the findings were based on a lack of documentation and not a failure to provide the required services.

But Adler rejects that.

"Parents don't call us because documentation is wrong," she said. "Parents call us because their child is not getting the services he or she needs."

District spokesman Jim Foster said the district is dedicated to making the recommended changes.

"We absolutely can do better, and we will do better," Foster said.

State education officials have said they will keep a close eye on the district's effort and assign more corrective action if needed.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content: Investigation finds Beaufort school district violated federal regulations in treatment of students; Aug. 23, 2012

Details of complaint about handling of disabled students revealed; July 2, 2012

Advocacy groups allege Beaufort schools mistreated disabled students; June 12, 2012

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