According to an Associated Press (AP) report in The Republic, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Southern Disability Law Center, and Disability Rights Mississippi have filed suit in federal court against the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), alleging that MDE has not done enough to solve special education problems in Jackson Public Schools (JPS). The suit charges that MDE has allowed JPS to get away with doing nothing to fix problems the groups cited in a previous 2010 complaint with the state.
The legal complaint states that MDE “exhibited complete indifference to the plaintiffs’ pleas for relief, and has failed to take appropriate action to compel JPS to correct the individual and systemic violations of the (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) that harm thousands of JPS’ most vulnerable students.” According to Vanessa Carroll, an SPLC lawyer, the groups sued the state and not the district because they wanted to force the state to be more accountable for the failures of local school districts.
The original administrative complaint to MDE centered on claims that JPS was overly punitive toward special education students, suspending them or sending them to the district’s alternative school. In a parallel action, the groups sued JPS over the practice of handcuffing students at the alternative school, winning a settlement barring the use of restraints.
The suit contends JPS stonewalled MDE for months, only acknowledging problems after interim Superintendent Jayne Sargent took over. Even then, the suit says, JPS has made promises but has not followed through on improvements. “Sadly, not a single one of the violations was corrected by JPS,” Carroll said.
JPS’ noncompliance triggered an effort for MDE to revoke the accreditation of its second largest school district. But in May 2012, the state’s accreditation commission gave JPS six more months to solve problems. Carroll said that she thought the threat of removing accreditation was ineffective in this case. She said stripping JPS of its state seal of approval would do nothing to improve services to her client.
“That’s not going to miraculously transform the office of special education,” she said. Instead, Carroll urged MDE to rely on authority granted to it by federal special education law. Carroll believes MDE could give detailed orders to JPS without taking over the district and pushing aside the current superintendent and school board.
Although MDE had previously used takeovers as a way to turn around failing schools, more recently it has been moving away from such takeovers, trying more to rely on accreditation sanctions.
Source: The Republic, 7/10/12, By Jeff Amy (AP)
[Editor's Note: The SPLC press release announcing the suit states:
The lawsuit describes how the district’s plan did not adequately address its ongoing violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law designed to protect the educational rights of students with disabilities. It also describes how the district’s students with disabilities often languish three or four grades behind their peers. The graduation rate for students with disabilities in the Jackson Public School District is only 9.1 percent.
SPLC's lawsuit seeks relief under the IDEA. According to the complaint, JPS' failure to comply with the IDEA has diminished the likelihood of disabled students reaching their academic potential and achieving a successful transition from high school.
In June 2012, Legal Clips summarized an AP story on CBS Atlanta, which reported that JPS agreed to settle a suit brought by SPLC, in that JPS would no longer handcuff students to poles or other objects and would train staff at its alternative school on better methods of discipline.]