VWSD to review effects of offerings in special ed cases

Published 11:56 am Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The mother of a special education student in Vicksburg’s public schools says a settlement of her discrimination complaint against the school district is “a good start” toward providing equal opportunities here for all children.

The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights by Vicksburg resident Tammy Hosemann on behalf of her son, was settled last month — in advance of a formal determination of discrimination — following an agreement by the Vicksburg Warren School District to resolve the issues, DOE documents show.

Hosemann’s son, who has special needs, was not allowed to participate in the district’s October 2009 enrichment program offered during that term’s intercession period.

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The district’s “Resolution Agreement,” dated Dec. 2, was signed by Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford, who took office in August following the retirement of former Superintendent Dr. James Price.

“It’s a beginning,” Hosemann said today of the agreement. “With the change in administration, I think there is hope that the children with disabilities will have the same opportunities as the other children.”

Swinford declined to comment on the specifics of the complaint or its resolution.

“The case precedes me,” Swinford said Friday. “It was before my time, but I am the current superintendent, so under the advice of legal counsel, anything that needs a signature I will sign.”

Price instituted intercession periods beginning in the fall of 2008 to provide extra help after each nine-week term for students having difficulty mastering skills and content for which they would be tested in the MCT2 tests in the spring.

Students who did not need remediation did not attend school during those periods.

During the second year intercession was offered, Price added an enrichment component to provide between-term activities for students who wanted to participate in an activity during the school break.

Hosemann’s son was not required to take the MCT2 test and, therefore, she was told, he was not eligible to attend intercessions.

His class, a self-contained group of about 10 special education students, was not informed that the enrichment classes were being offered, Hosemann said.

When she contacted then-director of special education and federal programs Dr. Susan Bentley, Bentley denied her request for an Individualized Education Program team meeting to consider whether Hosemann’s son could attend enrichment, she said.

“We have determined that there is sufficient evidence to establish that the VWSD violated (federal special education regulations),” wrote Taylor D. August, regional director of the OCR’s Dallas office.

“Both the director of special education and the lead IEP teacher informed OCR…. their understanding is that the decision was made based on the student’s ‘unpredictable behavior,’” August wrote. “Direct evidence of discrimination consists of statements or conduct by someone involved in the decision-making process that shows that discrimination motivated the denial of an educational benefit or other adverse action.”

In its agreement, VWSD agrees to convene, before Jan. 31, a gathering of parents and guardians of the students who were in Hosemann’s child’s class in October 2009 to determine if any “educational harm” resulted from the students not attending intercession at that time. If harm is determined, the IEP team will determine and provide compensatory services within a reasonable period.

Also, the district promised to provide, before Feb. 28, documentation to the OCR that the meeting took place; and, by March 31, make appropriate staff available to attend a training session provided by an OCR member.

The agreement also includes a list of reporting requirements with which the district will comply, including providing further information and proof of monitoring, if OCR requests it.

Since taking office, Swinford has worked to reorganize the district’s administrative team, which has included separating the functions of special education and oversight of federal programs, and appointing two directors to the positions.

Hosemann, who has claimed in several Letters to the Editor of The Vicksburg Post that special needs student faced district discrimination in the last few years, said in a written statement she hopes the district’s reconciliation will empower parents of disabled children “to fight for their child’s rights to receive a free and appropriate education regardless of the severity of their child’s disability.”

“It is my hope that things will change in this community so that disabled children will be allowed to participate in programs offered to their typically functioning peers and be given the opportunity to grow and learn with other children,” she wrote.