On October 1st, AJE received this Letter of Determination stating that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) agreed with AJE and found that DCPS denied students with disabilities in several self-contained classrooms the Free Appropriate Public Education that are entitled to by failing to staff their classrooms with qualified special educators. The five schools OSSE found to be out of compliance during part of 2018/19 school year were
- Takoma Education Campus
- Malcolm X Elementary School
- Langley Elementary School
- Hearst Elementary School
- River Terrace Education Campus
OSSE ordered DCPS to address this problem both on a systemic level and for the individual students in those five classrooms who did not have special education teachers.
On a system level DCPS must –
- Develop a corrective action plan to ensure that system-wide it is employing licensed teachers in its schools and that it is tracking the current licensure status of its employees.
- The corrective action plan must also address how DCPS plans to ensure that licensed teachers are available to provide specialized instruction to students with disabilities. DCPS must submit this plan to OSSE for approval by January 1, 2020.
On a student level DCPS must –
- Convene an IEP Team meeting for each of the students in the self-contained classrooms at Hearst ES, Langley ES, Malcom X ES, River Terrace EC, and Takoma EC who did not have a qualified special education teacher in their classroom during all of school year 2018/19 and to create a compensatory education plan to address that failure to provide all of the specialized instruction hours required by each of the students’ IEP.
- DCPS must submit copies of the compensatory education plans to OSSE, including the justification relied on by the IEP Teams in determining the compensatory education hours. DCPS must submit documentation to OSSE that they did this by January 1, 2020.
We encourage families with children in those five schools whose children might be in one of the self-contained classrooms impacted to reach out to their child’s school and determine if they are entitled to compensatory education. Compensatory education is an individualized determination intended to put the student in the place they would have been in but for the denial of FAPE by the school, and it is a decision of the IEP team. Parents are a required member of the IEP team. Families are permitted to ask for services that they think will be useful and usable to the student that will address the harm caused by DCPS’ failure to adequately staff the classroom. A cookie-cutter or formulaic approach to compensatory education is not allowed, compensatory education plans must be based on the student’s unique needs (see Zirkel article).
AJE is hopeful that this Letter of Determination from OSSE, by mandating that DCPS develop a better system of staffing classrooms will help students with disabilities across DCPS, and not just at the five schools we mentioned in our complaint.
However, it is important to note that OSSE did not investigate all self-contained DCPS classrooms; unfortunately, since sharing the Letter of Determination and our initial complaint with parents and other members of the community we have heard about two additional classrooms that were not appropriately staffed during the 2018/19 and 2019/20 school years. OSSE shared with AJE that they cannot investigate those classrooms under the complaint we filed back in August and that we will need to file a new complaint in order for OSSE to investigate and make sure those children get the services they are entitled to if there was a violation of IDEA.
Therefore AJE will file another complaint regarding the allegations we have heard about other self-contained classrooms without special education teachers so that OSSE can investigate. We strongly encourage families and other members of the community who have knowledge of self-contained classrooms without teachers, or other violations of IDEA, to let OSSE know via the State Complaint process.
You can find out more about State Complaints here at OSSE’s page, and the Advocacy Institute has helpful resources about how they can be a tool for systems change as well. DC families are always welcome to call AJE for advice and information about the special education process.