Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2019

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Report details allegations of school district’s violations

The Clark County School District has released a three-inch-thick bundle of documentation backing up allegations made by special education auditors that the district is in violation of state and federal laws.

Since the special education audit was first made public in June 1996, school district administrators have dismissed as inaccurate many of the audit findings. But comparisons with state and federal complaints show that the school district was put on notice for breaking state and federal laws as far back as 1991.

On Tuesday, the school district's legal department released the backup material and a six-page summary, prepared by auditors Ed Sontag and David Rostetter. The packet details allegations of federal and state violations and alleged failure by the school district to follow its own procedures.

Included in the summary are actions taken by the special education department that contradict the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA; the Code of Federal Regulations; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and the school district's Special Student Services Procedures Manual.

Specifically, auditors berate the special ed department for violations in five areas: placement, least restrictive environment, Child Find, Individualized Education Plan development and related services.

Auditors accuse "upper-level Special Student Services Division administrators" of overriding committee decisions on 16 special ed student placements.

Federal regulations state that placement decisions must be made by "a group of persons knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options."

Superintendent Brian Cram has in the past argued that these allegations are inaccurate because a provision in the school district's Special Student Services Procedures Manual allows for the assistant superintendent of special student services to override committee decisions.

A memo dated Aug. 3, 1994, from former assistant superintendent Marsha Irvin addresses that provision and states, "an appeal may be made, in writing, to the assistant superintendent of special student services division."

It does not state that the assistant superintendent can make an alternate ruling.

A school district source said the intent of the stipulation was to ensure the placement procedure had been properly followed and provide an avenue for review of the process, not to give permission for any one person to override the committee's decision.

One case outlined in the back-up documentation chronologically details what Sontag and Rostetter say is an attempt to "cover up" the "infractions."

Memos with the names of special ed administrators involved in the case were blocked out by the school district legal department.

But copies of the original memos were obtained by the SUN and show Marsha Irvin, former assistant superintendent of special student services; Tippy Reid, Seigle Diagnostic Center director; and Don Layton, assistant director of special education programs, were involved in the alleged cover-up.

In 15 of the 16 placement cases, upper-level administrators made "unilateral" decisions to place students in more restrictive environments, according to the summary.

"This was, and remains, willful and knowing refusal to comply with the federal requirement that placement decisions be made by 'a group of persons," the auditors charge.

Sontag and Rostetter contend at least nine of these cases were violations of the least restrictive environment requirement of IDEA.

As early as 1991, documents that are public record show the school district was investigated by and is still being monitored by the federal Office for Civil Rights for violations of federal regulations concerning least restrictive environment placements.

The auditors also charge that "significant delays" ranging from 10-31 school days occurred in evaluating and placing special education students after they had been referred to Child Find.

Child Find is the department that evaluates students new to the school district for placement in special education classes.

The Code for Federal Regulations states: "Even when the student has just moved into the school district, the delay should not be more than a week."

The auditors contend the free and appropriate education provisions in federal law were denied on 16 separate occasions.

These allegations are substantiated by an investigation of the school district begun in October 1995 by the federal Office for Civil Rights.

Among other violations, the federal office initiated an investigation because of students who are "denied access to education during the time they must wait to be processed through Child Find."

Sontag and Rostetter accuse the special ed department of using "boiler plate" Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs.

"Individualization is the idea that children with disabilities should be treated as individuals with unique needs requiring specially tailored services," the auditors state in the summary.

The auditors also charge that aversive behavior plans, goals and objectives, evaluation procedures, schedules to determine if objectives were being met and timelines were not included in the IEPs they reviewed, and that goals and objectives were outlined prior to the IEP committee meeting.

All of these allegations, according to Sontag and Rostetter, are violations of federal regulations and the district's special ed procedure manual.

Sontag and Rostetter say they were regularly told during their audit that services such as occupational and physical therapy, assistive technology, audiology assessments and counseling were denied students because of personnel shortages.

IDEA regulations state, "there can be no undue delay in providing special education and related services to the child."

Public records show that the state Department of Education investigated the school district for a complaint filed in March 1996 claiming an "unreasonable delay" for an occupational therapy assessment from the Seigle Diagnostic Center.

The state department ordered the school district to complete the assessment within 14 days of the receipt of the decision and to hold an EIP meeting no more than seven days later. The school district was also ordered to submit to the state department a copy of the assessment and written notice of the IEP meeting to verify the order had been followed.

In addition, the school district was ordered to submit a corrective action plan to the state department within 45 days after receiving the decision.

Another complaint filed with the state Department of Education claimed an unreasonable delay in obtaining assistive technology for a Boulder City High School student and a delay in the annual review of the students' IEP.

The state department found the school district "did exceed the timeline requirement for reviewing the student's IEP at least annually," in accordance with the Nevada Administrative Code.

It also ruled the school district was in violation of the Nevada Administrative Code requirement for completion of assistive technology assessments in a timely manner.