North Carolina’s largest school system has agreed to improve how it educates students with mental health or behavioral disabilities to settle a complaint filed with state education officials.
Advocates For Children’s Services, a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, filed a complaint in July with the state Department of Public Instruction accusing the Wake County school system of routinely violating the rights of students who have disabilities.
In a settlement announced Thursday, the Wake school system agreed to take steps such as improving staff training, revising policies and providing additional educational services to some students who had been suspended.
“About 20 percent of adolescents suffer from some sort of mental health or behavioral disability,” Cari Carson, staff attorney for Advocates for Children’s Services, said in an interview. “We’ve got this huge group of kids who are not able to access an appropriate education. We think this settlement agreement is a really big step for them not falling through the cracks.”
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Under the agreement, Wake doesn’t admit to any wrongdoing. But the policies it will implemen include:
▪ Train school staff on “effective behavior interventions,” including how trauma affects students;
▪ Develop a system for monitoring suspensions of students with disabilities;
▪ Update procedures for providing services to students with disabilities who are suspended for more than 10 days and are reassigned to an alternative school; and
▪ Review the cases of students who missed 20 or more days due to suspensions or delays providing transportation services to see if they need additional services from the district.
“We are pleased to reach this agreement with Legal Aid of North Carolina on completing the strategies and systems outlined in the settlement, some of which were already underway,” Karen Hamilton, Wake’s assistant superintendent for special education services, said in a news release. “We look forward to future opportunities to support our students with special needs.”
In the complaint, Wake was accused of violating the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires the school system to educate all students with disabilities in an appropriate manner and in the least restrictive environment. The News & Observer previously reported examples of alleged violations include:
▪ Suspending students without holding required reviews to determine if the student’s behavior is related to a disability. If the behavior is determined to be related to the disability, then the student can’t be suspended.
▪ Failing to provide educational services to suspended students with disabilities beginning on the 11th day of suspension.
▪ Failing to provide transportation to students who’ve been removed from their regular school and assigned to an alternative school program.
This was the fourth complaint that Advocates For Children’s Services has filed against Wake since 2009 over how the district educates students with mental health issues. All the complaints resulted in either DPI ordering Wake to make changes or the district reaching a settlement agreement with Advocates For Children’s Services.
In the last few years, Wake has expanded the number of alternative school seats for students who’ve been suspended from other schools.