Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Update on Missouri Special Education Hearings

Jeff Grisamore Not: Update on Missouri Special Education Hearings

The following is taken from several articles and websites.  It is all verifiable.  

Prior to returning to the State of Missouri, Chapel worked in Kansas City as a trial lawyer at the Sly James Firm, at Humphrey Farrington and McClain, and with the Missouri Attorney General.

Charnissa Holliday Scott
After serving as a school district administrator for several years, Charnissa Holliday Scott wanted to make a change in her life.

I've always been interested in law,” Charnissa said. “A friend of mine who was an attorney talked me into taking the LSAT, and I took it. And now I’m here and I'm looking at graduation in May 2011.” (I believe that this friend is Michelle Wimes)

Received a bachelor’s degree from Quincy University in Quincy, Ill. and a master’s degree in Education and an Education Specialist degree in Superintendent Administration from Avila University.

Broke KC charter school leaves teachers without final paycheck


The Kansas City Star

Teachers at the recently shuttered Derrick Thomas Academy charter school haven’t been paid, and no one seems to know when — or if — they ever will be.

“There are limited, if any, options that Derrick Thomas Academy has to help the teachers,” said James Tippin, a lawyer representing the school. “Believe me, no one on the Derrick Thomas board of directors is happy about this.”
Chapel and one of the attorneys at James Tippin Law, Dana Cutler, worked at the Sly James law firm.

Dana Cutler works at the Tippen Law Firm and is listed as contractor contact person for the contract with DESE.

Featured speaker will be Charnissa Holliday-Scott, a law student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law who previously worked as a core data specialist, interim director of exceptional education and compliance officer in urban and suburban school districts.

SHB Sponsors Jackson County Bar Association’s Foundation Scholarship Banquet By Willie Epps, Partner, SHB Kansas City On September 11, 2010, the Jackson County Bar Association and JCBA Foundation hosted the 13th Annual Kit Carson Roque, Jr. Scholarship Banquet at the Kansas City Marriott Country Club Plaza. This annual banquet celebrates the life and legacy of the late Judge Roque and promotes diversity in the profession by providing scholarships to deserving minority law students.

This year, the JCBA Foundation solicited scholarship applications from the four law schools around Kansas City: UMKC, MU, KU, and Washburn. The scholarship selection panel included SHB Partner Jon R. Gray (retired judge), SHB alumna Judge Lisa White Hardwick, and Judge Brian C. Wimes. Scholarships were awarded to Sophia Washington of UMKC Law School, Camille Roe of MU Law School, and Charnissa Holliday-Scott of UMKC Law School. SHB Partner Mischa Buford Epps serves as president of the JCBA Foundation, which has awarded 30 scholarships since 1998.

 The Individual Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was re-authorized this year effective July 1, 2005. Under the guidance of legal assistance provided by Attorneys Kathy Walter-Mack and Michelle Wimes, the information found in this manual contains legal references that are current and aligned with the changes that the new IDEA mandates. This Process Manual is also in alignment with the State Plan for Missouri as it becomes finalized according to the federal guidelines.  (FROM KCMO school district handbook)

Michelle Wimes worked as an attorney for KCMO school district. Charnissa Holiday-Scott was an employee at KCMO school district. Judge Wimes was on the panel for the scholarship that Holiday-Scott won. Holiday-Scott works for the law firm that has the contract with DESE.

Missouri Special Education Hearings

I received this from an attorney that represents families in Special Education lawsuits and due process.

I wanted to update all of you on some information I learned.  It appears that on December 12, 2012, DESE entered into a contract with the Tippin Law Firm to provide services for the Administrative Hearing Commission related to special education administrative hearings in Missouri.  A key person who is providing these services was previously a special education administrator for the Kansas City Missouri Public School District; the law firm has also recently represented at least one charter school.  The special education administrator appears to have been directed toward law school by a school district attorney.  The school district attorney’s husband (a judge) appears to have delivered funds to the special education administrator to assist with paying for law school.  I have also been provided information that Commissioner Nimrod Chapel has strong relationships with this law firm, such as previously working in a law office with one or more partners of the firm. 

Since this contract was entered into, and in comparison to the situation before HB595 was passed, DESE (and in particular Cynthia Quetsch) appears to now be exerting the same if not more, control over these hearings.  In my opinion the interests of DESE are in direct conflict with what the interests of the Administrative Hearing Commission should be, and the interests of DESE in special education matters is only to protect school districts from liability.   Any contracting should be solely between the AHC and a contractor, and DESE should not have any involvement (other than forwarding funds).  Persons previously employed by school districts as administrators should not be permitted to serve as a Commissioner, and the same conflict rules applicable to Commissioners should apply to contractors.  I am very concerned and hope someone will address the situation.  Feel free to pass this on to anyone who you think may be able to help or who may have interest.  Particular contract provisions that I also believe create a huge conflict of interest are as follows: 

I continue to believe that the State should have an audit conducted by unbiased persons (or biased persons on both sides), into DESE’s handling of special education matters in Missouri.  I do not intend to be involved in any more special education administrative hearings in Missouri unless and until changes are made. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Most bills set to become law August 28 - My North West Missouri News: Opinion

Most bills set to become law August 28 - My North West Missouri News: Opinion

Bryce’s Law (SB 17)
Another bill that will become law will help provide new resources to assist families with children with special needs such as autism. The legislation, also known as Bryce’s Law, requires the state education department to seek financial resources in the form of grants and donations that may be devoted to scholarship funds or clinical trials for these children. The bill also tasks the department with developing a master list of resources available to the parents of children with autism spectrum disorders.
The goal with the bill is to help families and children enjoy a higher quality of life and to obtain the educational experience they need and deserve. By making new and existing resources easier for families to access, we believe we can better meet the educational needs of the thousands of children in Missouri with autism spectrum disorders.

Bullying of disabled students can violate federal school law, U.S. Department of Education says |

Bullying of disabled students can violate federal school law, U.S. Department of Education says |

LANSING -- Federal education officials issued a letter Tuesday clarifying the responsibility of schools to prevent bullying of students with disabilities, saying that attacks could violate the federal guarantee of a free appropriate public education if they interfere with educational benefits.
The issue of children with disabilities being bullied has come to the forefront in Michigan recently after the parents of a Livonia Public Schools student filed a federal lawsuitalleging the students and staff of his elementary school are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by allowing the child to be bullied over his peanut allergy.
"[B]ullying of a student with a disability that results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit constitutes a denial of a free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that must be remedied," the letter states.
The letter includes suggestions of best practices for school districts to address bullying, including parent notification, training for school staff and tracking bullying incidents throughout the school year.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has a public awareness campaign to reduce bullying in schools, and has scheduled a Twitter chat on back-to-school bullying prevention for Aug. 29.
Michigan state law requires school districts to have an anti-bullying policy in place, and the Michigan Department of Education provides a model policy that school districts can adopt.
Brian Smith is the statewide education and courts reporter for MLive. Email him or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Another Bullying Lawsuit Targets a Texas School District

Another Bullying Lawsuit Targets a Texas School District

The mother of a former Leander Independent School District student has sued the school district claiming that the district failed to protect her son from bullying, according to a report by The Austin American-Statesman.  According to the lawsuit, the boy was targeted at least in part due to Asperger’s Syndrome, a developmental disorder that impacted how he socialized and interacted with others.
There is no dispute that students with disabilities can be especially vulnerable to bullying.  Further, courts may not look favorably on a school district that has failed to protect a student with special needs from abuse by other students.  The Leander ISD suit is at an early stage and the facts have not been fully developed, so it is yet to be seen whether the district will face any liability in that case.
What is the potential for liability in a bullying suit?  A number of federal anti-discrimination statutes address bullying and harassment and impose responsibilities on school administrators to protect the civil rights of students.  Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits gender discrimination.  In addition, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibit discrimination based on a disability.  Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.  Each of these statutes offer protections to those who have been harassed or severely bullied based on their protected category.  Further, all states receiving federal education funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must comply with federal requirements designed to provide a “free appropriate public education” (“FAPE”) for all disabled children.
Several courts have held that a school’s deliberate indifference in failing to prevent bullying of a special education student resulted in the denial of FAPE.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Texas, has not directly addressed this issue, however.  One 2011 case, T.K. v. New York City Department of Education, __ F.Supp.2d __, 2011 WL 1549243 (E.D.N.Y. 2011), examined the question of whether bullying can be grounds for finding a denial of FAPE.  T.K. received special education services under the classification of learning disabled.  The parents claimed the T.K. was subjected to repeated bullying at school as a result of her disability, that the school was aware of the conduct, and that the school failed to properly address the issue.  The parents requested a due process hearing complaining that the school denied T.K. FAPE and a hearing officer ruled in favor of the school.  The case proceeded to federal court.  The court developed the following standard in IDEA bullying disputes:

When responding to bullying incidents, which may affect the opportunities of a special education student, a school must take prompt and appropriate action.  It must investigate if the harassment is reported to have occurred.  If harassment is found to have occurred, the school must take appropriate steps to prevent it in the future.  These duties exist even if the misconduct is covered by its anti-bullying policy, and regardless of whether the student has complained, asked the school to take action, or identified the harassment as a form of discrimination.
It is not necessary to show that the bullying prevented all opportunity for an appropriate education, but only that it is likely to affect the opportunity of the student for an appropriate education.  Further, the bullying need not be a reaction to or related to a particular disability.
The record in the T.K. case included evidence of bullying by other students.  The parents showed that they tried to communicate the problems to the school principal.  The school, however, did not produce documentation that it either investigated the claims of bullying or took steps to remedy the conduct.  Finally, evidence supported the finding that the bullying caused the girl to resist attending school, hurt her academically, and damaged her emotional well-being.  According to the court, the parents produced sufficient evidence to create a fact issue as to whether the school’s failure to properly respond to the bullying denied the student FAPE.
Because school districts in violation of these federal anti-discrimination laws may face the withdrawal of federal funding, injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees, these cases can be very costly and time-consuming for school districts.  That is why it is paramount for school districts to learn to address allegations of peer harassment swiftly and thoroughly, with supporting documentation along the way.  Districts faced with these allegations will need to show that they took action to address the complaints and a genuine effort to stop the harassment.  Separating students, investigating complaints, interviewing students, taking written statements, meeting with parents, and reporting the incident through appropriate channels, are just some examples of steps that district personnel should take when faced with a student complaint of peer harassment.  Further, documenting each of these steps will go a long way in fighting allegations of deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment.  For more practical strategies on how to handle peer harassment and bullying complaints on your campus, see the Texas Legal Handbook on Student Bullying.