Last week, I filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights against the Delaware Department of Education for allowing a culture of discrimination against students with disabilities at Delaware charter schools. All too often, children with disabilities are either denied an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or they are “counseled out”, meaning the school either expels the students or very strongly suggests to the parent they don’t have the resources to help their child. Both are illegal under Federal and Delaware law. To this extent, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has responded to my complaint and they need a lot more information.
I need every single parent or guardian who has run across any of the below issues to contact me as soon as possible. The OCR has given me a very small window of opportunity here. For some parents, they may be worried if this interferes with any type of legal resolution they had with a school in the past. It would not. This is a complaint against the Delaware Department of Education, not any individual school. I will not make any of this information public, but it would be included in the complaint. We need to stop this culture of lawlessness in our state in respect to special education. It must stop.
While the below information states anything prior to 180 days would need a waiver, I fully intend to request this waiver since this has been an ongoing system issue in our state. The Delaware Department of Education has no method by which they track IEP denials in Delaware schools. If things progress too far, it can wind up going into mediation or a due process hearing. But this is not an easy task for parents and it takes up a great deal of time, money, and resources. We need to stop this problem from happening in the first place. While far too many parents can’t change what happened to their own child, we can stop this from happening to other children. I need your story!
If you have any information in regards to the following, including the funding issues when a student leaves a charter school, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are just reading this article and it does not apply to you, please share this link on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media. If you know anyone this may apply to, please share this with them specifically. Thank you!
Below is the letter I received from the Office of Civil Rights in regards to my complaint:
Dear Mr. Ohlandt,
This refers to the complaint you filed with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE). OCR enforces regulations that prohibit discrimination on the bases of race, color, disability, sex and age. The regulations enforced by OCR also prohibit retaliation against individuals who assert or defend a right or privilege secured by the laws OCR enforces, or participate in an OCR proceeding.
In order to proceed further with your complaint, we need additional information regarding your allegation[s]. Please respond to the questions below as specifically as possible. In responding to questions about your belief that an action by the recipient is discriminatory, please provide information indicating that the action was inconsistent with a recipient policy or practice (be as specific as possible), you were treated differently than others in a similar situation, and/or that members of the recipient staff made statements that would indicate dislike/hostility on the basis of disability.
- Based on your review of your complaint, it appears that you are alleging that the DDOE is discriminating on the basis of disability by:
- Permitting Delaware charter schools to deny students with disabilities an individualized education program (IEP);
- Permitting Delaware charter schools deny or discourage the enrollment of students with disabilities; and
- Permitting Delaware charter schools to maintain funding for students who leave the charter school after the September 30th count, but requiring the funding to follow a student who leaves a traditional school district to attend a Delaware charter school.
- Do the allegations listed above in #1.a.-c. fully and completely capture the allegation(s) that you wish to raise at this time? Yes or No (please circle or highlight your answer). If not, please edit the above allegations accordingly and/or list your additional allegations. Please provide the following information about each additional allegation:
- Describe the discrimination (who, what, when (date), where, how, please list the applicable names and dates);
- State the basis for the discrimination (e.g., disability); and
- State your reasons for believing that the discrimination is related to that basis (es).
- With regard to allegation #1.a., provide the following information for each student was denied an IEP:
- Name of student;
- Name of charter school;
- Date of parent request to charter school to evaluate the Student for an IEP or Section 504 plan;
- Date of charter school’s denial of request;
- If request was denied, indicate whether parent was provided with notice of procedural safeguards;
- If the denial occurred as a result of an evaluation meeting and you believe the meeting did not comport with the regulations enforced by OCR, please provide information indicating that the meeting was not attended by persons knowledgeable about the child, the evaluation data, and the placement options, or that the parent was not provided with notice of procedural safeguards.
- With regard to allegation #1.b., provide the following information about each instance when a charter school denied or discouraged the enrollment of students with disabilities:
- Name of student;
- Name of charter school;
- A description of the discriminatory conduct by charter school officials, including the date;
- The names or titles of the charter school officials engaging in the discriminatory conduct; and
- Most recent date of charter school’s denial of enrollment or student withdrawal.
- With regard to allegation #1.c., please state your reasons for believing that this practice constitutes discrimination against students with disabilities, identify any harmed students with disabilities, and the date of the harm.
- In your complaint, you identified September 1, 2015, as the most recent date of discrimination. If not already explained in responses to the questions above, please provide the information requested under #2.
- OCR will generally only investigate allegations of discrimination that have been filed within 180 days of the most recent act of discrimination unless the complainant is granted a waiver. You filed your complaint on September 16, 2015; therefore, any incidents occurring prior to March 20, 2015, are untimely. To the extent that you are requesting a waiver of the 180-day filing requirement, please state the reason(s) for not filing sooner.
We need to receive your response within 20 calendar days from the date of this email (i.e., by October 14, 2015). If we do not receive this information within 20 days, we may close your complaint. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Thank you.
Joseph P. Mahoney
U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights
100 Penn Square East
The Wanamaker Building, Suite 515
Philadelphia, PA 19107