#AdvocacyMatters: Opportunities Withheld

January 27, 2023 / #AdvocacyMatters

In any set of circumstances, navigating the systems and procedures of special education can be an overwhelming experience. When the students involved don’t have support or resources of an advocate behind them, the situation gets much more bleak. All too often students without this support structure are pushed further into the fringe, while their opportunities to learn and develop simply slip away.

In 2021, we filed a systemic complaint with the Ohio Department of Education on behalf of students placed at the Warren County Educational Service Center in Lebanon, Ohio. Acting on this complaint, ODE investigated and the findings were startling. All 43 districts placing students within the ESC – as well as the ESC itself – were found to have violations of special education law. Chief among the findings was the lack of adequate Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that meet students’ specific needs, failure to implement students’ IEPs, evidence that students were not receiving positive behavioral interventions or supports to meet their needs, as well as students that did not have access to regular academic instruction or general education curriculum. Further findings indicated that some students were not being placed in the least restrictive environment, students with suspected disabilities were not being properly identified or evaluated prior to being placed at the ESC, some students did not have access to non-academic or extra-curricular activities at their home districts, nor was there adequate documentation demonstrating the appropriate licensure of some ESC staff.

With the investigation complete, both the ESC and all 43 school districts have been ordered to take several steps to improve the situations of students placed there. The ESC must attend professional development, implement corrective action, provide adequate progress reports, and individualize mental health and psychiatric services based on student needs. All 43 school districts are required to attend professional development programs on IEPs and Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Thirty-seven districts must review and correct inadequate IEPs, and 41 districts must create policies and/or monitoring teams to better track the services being provided and progress their children are making. Nearly 100 students will each receive an average of 57 hours of compensatory education for IEP services they did not receive.

While these remedies should help improve things for students placed at the Warren Co ESC, opportunity withheld is opportunity lost. Fierce advocacy is required to ensure that all students with disabilities receive the free and appropriate education to which they are entitled, providing opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive. This is just one case in one facility with one group of students. Because our #AdvocacyMatters for each and every one of them, this victory should be celebrated as we continue to push for these types of protections and outcomes for others.

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