The U.S. Department of Education announced today the successful resolution of a compliance review that was initiated at the Schenectady City School District in Schenectady, N.Y. The review examined whether the school district discriminated against black and Latino students on the bases of race, national origin, or disability in the pre-referral and referral of these students for special education evaluation.
The resolution agreement requires the district to take steps to ensure that it is providing an equal opportunity for black and Latino students to receive assistance in the regular education setting prior to consideration for placement in special education. And, that students of all races be treated equitably in the special education evaluation and placement processes.
From the inception of the review, the district worked collaboratively with the department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The district voluntarily entered into a resolution agreement prior to OCR's making any compliance determinations.
"As a nation we have made great strides to ensure that students with disabilities receive an appropriate education," said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. "We appreciate the district’s commitment to working with OCR to address this important civil rights issue. And, we hope that other school districts follow the district’s lead and take steps to ensure that students are not misidentified as having a disability and misplaced in special education because of their race or national origin."
In the district, black and Latino students were enrolled in special education at a rate that was disproportionate to their enrollment. Of particular note, during school year 2012-2013 black students represented 49 percent of students classified as emotionally disturbed, while black students accounted for 35 percent of the overall student population; and Latino students represented 23 percent of students classified as learning disabled, while Latino students accounted for 16 percent of the overall student population.
OCR determined that there was no standardized criteria for referring a student to the school building-level teams responsible for implementing the district's regular education intervention process. Instead, the approach used by teachers to refer students differed from school to school, and from classroom to classroom.
Teachers referred a larger number and a larger percentage of students to the building-level teams at schools with larger black and/or Latino populations. Additionally, OCR identified elementary school teachers who had racially diverse classrooms, referred only non-white students, and had white students who were similarly situated but were not referred.
OCR determined that some of the building-level teams utilized cognitive evaluation materials during the problem identification process, but that cognitive evaluation materials in Spanish were largely unavailable in the district. Further, at times there was no one available to appropriately evaluate Spanish-speaking students; and the building-level teams rarely called in the Spanish-speaking psychologist to conduct evaluations.
OCR also found that no school routinely monitored the effectiveness of the regular education interventions provided. However, building-level teams at schools with relatively large white student populations were more likely to have follow-up meetings to determine the effectiveness of the interventions provided than at schools with relatively large black and Latino populations.
Under the agreement, the district will:
- Retain an expert to examine the root causes of the overrepresentation of black and Latino students in special education in the district and make recommendations.
- Develop and implement a plan to expand the district’s universal screening process.
- Provide training on screening methods and intervention processes and strategies.
- Ensure that each school implements a systematic, team-based means of providing intervention strategies in the regular education classroom for students experiencing academic or behavior difficulties.
- Develop written policies and procedures that include the extent to which informal classroom interventions should be attempted prior to referral to the building-level teams, circumstances for referring students to the teams, and oversight to ensure consistency in each school.
- Determine whether eligibility and placement decisions for current students were appropriate; if not, take corrective action, including providing compensatory and/or remedial services to address deficits resulting from the improper placement.
- Utilize tests and other evaluation materials, as appropriate, in the dominant language of English language learner students who have, or are suspected of having, disabilities.
- Annually evaluate the effectiveness of screening, intervention, evaluation, and placement processes, specifically looking at data related to the provision of team-prescribed interventions and teacher referrals of students to the building-level team.
OCR will closely monitor implementation of the agreement. A copy of the resolution letter is available here: http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/schenectady-new-york-letter.doc. The agreement is posted here: http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/schenectady-new-york-agreement.doc.
The office's mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. Additional information about OCR is available at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.