#AdvocacyMatters: Beyond the Back and Forth

March 22, 2024 / #AdvocacyMatters

Over the past several months, we’ve shared updates on our continued advocacy to improve educational opportunities for students at the Warren County Educational Service Center (WCESC). This work began back in 2022, when we filed a systemic complaint with the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) on behalf of students placed there. The 44 school districts placing students within the WCESC – as well as WCESC itself – were found to have violations of special education law. Once the investigation was complete, WCESC and all 44 school districts were ordered to take several steps to improve the situations of students placed there… like reviewing and correcting inadequate IEPs, creating policies and monitoring teams to better track the services being provided and progress their children are making, providing adequate progress reports, and individualizing mental health and psychiatric services based on student needs. Nearly 100 students in the sample reviewed by DEW were awarded an average of 57 hours of compensatory education for IEP services they did not receive.

After the findings were released, we learned that these corrective action plans were paused and being revised by DEW after pressure from WCESC and some school districts, with many students losing compensatory education that they were originally awarded. This was done without notifying DRO or any of the parents or students involved, preventing them from providing any information or participating in the process at all. In response to this reversal, we filed a due process complaint regarding DEW’s failure to implement its original requirements to correct violations of special education law in the WCESC. In the complaint, we asked that DEW restore the original corrective action plans and, further, conduct a review of the rest of the students that were not included in the original sample to determine if they are entitled to compensatory education.

Earlier this week, we filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed by WCESC against DEW. This lawsuit seeks to invalidate DEW’s findings that the WCESC violated education law and deprived students of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and prevent the enforcement or implementation of any corrective action at WCESC. DRO’s intervention in the lawsuit will aim to ensure that the rights of parents and students with disabilities are enforced.

“It’s very unfortunate that the ESC chooses to spend its time and energy fighting against the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce’s original findings, which aim to improve educational programming and services at the ESC,” DRO Senior Attorney Kristin Hildebrant remarked. “The students attending the ESC would only benefit from DEW’s recommendations for improved curriculum and training for staff and the provision of additional instruction, yet the ESC elects to defend its program’s shortcomings to the detriment of disabled students in Warren County and their families.”

Beyond all this back-and-forth, at the root of this issue is a group of young people who have been deprived of educational opportunities for far too long. Our advocacy for them, their families, and their peers continues. #AdvocacyMatters

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