#AdvocacyMatters: Withholding Opportunities, Denying Transparency

February 16, 2024 / #AdvocacyMatters

Equity in education doesn’t mean everyone receiving the same thing – it means everyone has access to the tools necessary for them to be successful. Without the proper resources, students and families already navigating the complex and often confusing special education systems can find themselves pushed further into the fringe.

In 2022, 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. 44 school districts placing students within the ESC – as well as the ESC itself – were found to have violations of special education law. Once the investigation was complete, the ESC and all 44 school districts have been 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 were awarded an average of 57 hours of compensatory education for IEP services they did not receive.

Months after the findings were released, we learned that these corrective action plans were paused and being revised by ODE after pressure from the ESC and some school districts, with many students losing compensatory education that they were originally awarded. Operating outside of all established review processes, these changes have been kept secret and hidden from DRO, the Office for Exceptional Children which conducted the initial investigation and provides IDEA oversight, and the most importantly, the families impacted by the initial complaint.

This week, we filed a due process complaint regarding the failure of the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (ODEW) to implement its original requirements to correct violations of special education law in the Warren County Educational Service Center. In this complaint, we ask that ODEW 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. DRO also requests that all students and parents receive written notice of the findings and any awards of compensatory education or other services, and that Warren County ESC or any school district disagreeing with the initial findings be required to use a proper review process, which gives parents the opportunity to participate.

“We do not condone ODEW’s handling of the situation and working behind closed doors to halt and reconsider the recommendation the agency itself endorsed,” reflected Kerstin Sjoberg, DRO Executive Director. “We want to continue to ensure that students with disabilities receive the best possible educational opportunities.”

Parents and families impacted by ODE’s decision to reconsider its original findings can contact DRO for updates and more information.


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