The Wake County school system has agreed to change the way it educates students with disabilities who receive lengthy suspensions, part of settling an advocacy group’s complaint to state education officials.
Under the agreement announced Thursday, Wake this summer will offer a free, six-week, 60-hour program to all students with disabilities who received lengthy suspensions during the 2011-12 school year. As many as 250 students who missed 10 days or more could be eligible.
Wake also guaranteed it will provide alternative educational programs for students with disabilities suspended for more than 10 days. It’s not clear how much all these efforts will cost.
“We sympathize with cash-strapped districts, but these children are entitled to a free and appropriate education,” said Jason Langberg, attorney for complainant Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Advocates for Children’s Services.
The school system did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Since 2009, Langberg’s group has filed three complaints with the state Department of Public Instruction accusing Wake of violating federal and state laws by inadequately serving special-education students who receive long-term suspensions.
Advocates for Children’s Services and Mark Trustin, a Durham attorney, filed the latest complaint in July.
Wake began three new alternative education programs for long-term suspended students this school year. Under the agreement, Wake has to notify the complainants if they intend to make any major changes to those programs.
Wake also agreed to enroll suspended students with disabilities in home-based services only under extenuating circumstances. These services provide students with instruction at home or another environment, such as a library.
Langberg’s group called home-based services inadequate because students got as few as four hours a week of instruction.
Complainants also said some students filled out worksheets at a McDonald’s restaurant as after-school “tutoring” while their specially hired teacher played with a smartphone.
Wake also agreed to limit the use of SCORE, an online program, for suspended students with disabilities. Langberg’s group had questioned its effectiveness.
Under other elements of the agreement, Wake said it would:
• Provide an easy-to-understand guide for parents of students with disabilities who face long-term suspensions.
• Keep data on how often students with disabilities are suspended.
• Conduct an annual review of the alternative education programs.
“We’re seeing the district being forced to do what it should have been doing all along,” Langberg said.