State education department reviews special ed complaint against SAD 75

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TOPSHAM — The Maine Department of Education is investigating whether systemic violations of special education regulations exist in School Administrative District 75. 

DOE spokesman David Connerty-Marin said last week that his department often receives complaints referring to the way school districts handle specific students. But he said the DOE only received two systemic complaints last year.

Systemic complaints, according to DOE policy, allege that “a public agency has a policy, practice, or procedure” that has violated part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or the Maine Unified Special Education Regulations, and that “is, or has the potential to be, applicable to a group of students, named or unnamed.”

Anyone can file a systemic complaint, even if the complainant does not have a student in the school district, Connerty-Marin said.

The complaint was filed with the DOE on April 27. Jonathan Braff, a complaint investigator with the department, met with the complainant and SAD 75 Special Services Director Patrick Moore on May 18 to determine the nature of the complaints.

“All that is doing is listing the allegations,” Connerty-Marin said. “They could be entirely without merit, they could be entirely with merit, or somewhere in between.”

Braff declined on May 20 to say who filed the complaint, or whether it was filed by one or more people.

Moore noted in an emailed statement Tuesday that the complaint claimed “that (SAD 75 has) not followed certain technical procedural requirements of the special education regulations.”

He said confidentiality rules prohibit him from discussing specific students.

“SAD 75 offers a range of services to students with different needs, and we have excellent programs that enjoy statewide recognition and that are tailored to the special needs of our students,” he said. “We are fortunate to have a team of outstanding educators who are dedicated to meeting the needs of every student in the district.”

Moore added that the school district is responsible for providing “an appropriate educational program to each student and we are very confident that in this case a thorough independent investigation will confirm that we offer exceptional programs to our students.

“Because this is such a highly regulated area,” he continued, “I would not be at all surprised to find that someone could identify a technical oversight in some paperwork, but I can say with great confidence that when you look at our program as a whole it is one of the best programs available for students.”

Following the May 18 meeting the parties had about a week to submit to Braff any documents they think he should have, as well as the names and contact information of people they think he should interview, Connerty-Marin said.

Braff will conduct an investigation and ultimately prepare a report stating whether he believes there have been any violations of the law, and will make recommendations about what the district should do. He will submit that report to DOE Commissioner Stephen Bowen, who will have 60 days to issue his own report.

“One of the things (the report) contains is the findings as to whether there was a violation of law or not, with respect to each of those allegations,” Braff said. “Any time there is a finding of violation, there is a corrective action plan that is part of the report, that tells the district what needs to be done.”

The allegations, listed in a document provided by Braff, cite six alleged violations of Maine Unified Special Education Regulations, the DOE regulations that govern special education:

• Having a practice of not conducting a student re-evaluation at least once every three years.

• Not fully and adequately implementing students’ Individualized Education Programs during the first three weeks of the current school year. (IEPs are written statements – for students ages 3-20 receiving special education – that include students’ present level of academic achievement, their measurable goals, the plan for students’ progress toward those goals and what specific special education or related services they need.)

• Modifying students’ educational programs without utilizing their IEP teams as the vehicle for making those decisions and without adequately considering their individual needs. (IEP teams convene to determine a student’s eligibility for special education, and they write a plan, including services, for that student once they deem him or her eligible.)

• Limiting Woodside Elementary School special education students to an abbreviated school day, and therefore not providing them with the appropriate public education.

• Not making determinations of the amount of extended school year services to provide students on an individualized basis.

• Not providing special education, related services, and supplementary services and aids that are based on peer-reviewed research.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.