Dan Trouten, a local advocate for children with learning disabilities, filed the complaint on behalf of the student and his parents, accusing the school district of discriminating against the 17 year old based on disability caused by a health condition.
Specifically, the complaint charged that the school district failed to provide the student with a free, appropriate public education by failing to conduct an appropriate evaluation to see if he was eligible for special education and/or related aids and services.
The OCR agreed.
In a recent letter to Trouten, Olabisi L. Okubadejo, team leader of the District of Columbia office of the OCR, said the agency was concerned because although the school district was notified of the student’s medical condition, the district failed to conduct an
evaluation to see if he needed extra help.
Okubadejo said the school district had enough information to conclude the student may have qualified under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, specifically in regards to the visible impact his medical condition played on his ability to attend class and his failing grades.
“Rather, the school district made an assumption that the student’s low grades and poor attendance, as well as his poor behavior, were a result of the student’s own ‘poor’ choices,” Okubadejo said.
The student, according to the complaint, has acid reflux disorder, which caused him to missed 41 days of school during the 2008-2009 school year, and according to the OCR’s interviews with school staff, the school district had known about the condition since the student was in middle school.
In his complaint, Trouten also contends, that along with acid reflux disease, the student also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
According to the OCR’s analysis and conclusion, the school nurse acknowledged being aware of the student’s medical condition but “was not aware of how that affected his grades or his ability to learn and did not discuss the impact of his illness with anyone at the school.”
The nurse said that while she had previously made recommendations for 504 evaluations with other students, “it did not occur to her” to make that recommendation for this student.
The OCR’s conclusion also states that school’s assistant principal confirmed the student had a poor attendance record, including a high number of unexcused absences, and that he had failing grades.
He said he was aware of the student’s medical condition, but the assistant principal also said he never considered referring the student for an evaluation under Section 504, saying “it never crossed his mind,” according to the letter from the OCR.
“He (the assistant principal) believed the student was performing poorly in school because he made poor decisions,” the letter states.
Both the school nurse and the assistant principal told the OCR they had never had formal Section 504 training.
“The OCR is also concerned that the district has failed to provide staff at the school with adequate training on the requirements and proper procedures under Section 504,” the letter to Trouten states.
Trouten addressed the school board Monday night, saying the school district needs to “learn the law.”
“Do your job; quit taking money away from the children, and quit giving it to attorneys,” he said.
Trouten said he waited 170 days before filing the complaint, hoping the school district would acknowledge that it needed to come into compliance.
In response to the complaint, and prior to the OCR making conclusions in its investigation, the school district voluntarily entered into a resolution agreement with the agency to address compliance concerns, and according to Okubadejo, when the agreement is fully implemented, it will address those concerns.
The agreement, signed by superintendent Henry Hunt, gives a timeline for evaluating the student to determine his eligibility for services under Section 504, and to determine whether the conduct for which he was expelled was a manifestation of a disability.
If found eligible for related aids and services, the student would be placed in a high school within the school district, provided he is otherwise eligible to attend, and the district would develop a plan for the student.
And if the evaluation concludes that the student’s conduct leading to expulsion was caused by his disability, records of the expulsion will be removed from his file.
However, if the evaluation concludes the conduct was not a manifestation of the student’s disability, the school district said it will provide the OCR with an explanation of how it arrived at that decision, including factors that it considered in doing so.
And the school district said it will provide Section 504 training to appropriate administrators and teachers at the school, including the school nurse.
The OCR has jurisdiction in the matter, as the enforcer of civil rights laws, including Section 504, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, as well as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by public entities.