District adopts new policy after complaint

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Brookhaven School District has adopted a new policyregarding the placement of students with disabilities after theMississippi Department of Education (MDE) ruled the previous policywas not in compliance with federal law.

Disability Rights Mississippi (DRM), an advocacy group for thedisabled, filed a complaint against the Brookhaven district withthe MDE on May 10.

“Under the Brookhaven School Board policy, children with specialeducation needs or disabilities who had been in some type ofresidential or facility type treatment program were automaticallyplaced in the alternative school upon their transition back intothe school setting,” said Shirley Walker, an advocate and outreachcoordinator for DRM.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Superintendent Dr. Lisa Karmacharya stated that the MDE’s rulingonly concerned the language of the policy. She denied that theMDE’s and DRM’s interpretation of that policy reflected actualtreatment of students by the district.

“The complaint was about a policy, not a practice,” Karmacharyasaid.

The policy in question set forth the students for whom thedistrict’s alternative school program was said to exist. Includedamong the list were students “returning to the regular schoolsetting from an institutional placement.”

According to a statement issued by DRM, “institutional placement”includes facilities such as Millcreek Rehabilitation Center inMagee or Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare in Flowood.

The MDE ruled June 7 that the policy violated the Individuals withDisabilities Act (IDEA), a federal law that dictates how schoolsprovide services to disabled students.

Under IDEA, each disabled student must have an IndividualizedEducation Program (IEP) that describes the student’s level ofacademic performance and specifies modifications the school willmake in the educational services it provides to that child.

An IEP is designed by a team, which can include the child’sparents, teachers, school administrators and a school psychologistamong others.

“According to federal law, placement of a child with a disabilityis an issue that is to be determined by a team,” Walker said. “Thedecision is to be made based on that child’s unique individualneeds and where those needs can be best served in the leastrestrictive environment.”

As of Dec. 1, there were 343 students with IEPs in the Brookhavendistrict said Stephanie Henderson, former director of specialservices.

Karmarcharya said that the MDE interpreted the district’s policy tomean that alternative school placement was automatic, thereforebypassing the IEP team.

But the policy was meant to express the potential for placement ofdisabled students in the alternative school program not to mandatetheir placement in the program Karmarcharya said.

The MDE laid out three steps the school should take to bring itselfin compliance: alter the policy, edit the student handbook andimplement staff training for disabilities.

The school board voted at its June 28 meeting to amend the policyto include the following statement: “This policy is subject to theindividuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), and any placement in thealternative program of a student receiving special educationservices shall be governed by that student’s individualizededucation plan (IEP).”

The upcoming school year’s handbooks will reflect this change andstaff training is scheduled for Aug. 8.