Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD’s) founded and repeated failures to comply with special education law is a civil rights issue. The redacted Iowa Department of Education Accreditation Final Report Iowa City School District dated June 13, 2016 (Report) is profoundly disturbing, especially in its description of ICCSD’s noncompliance areas as “systemic” and its findings as “pervasive and substantive” (Report p. 32).
This Report is not an indictment of staff, teachers, paraprofessionals, and concerned Board members, all of whom the Report noted are a strength of the district (Report p. 5). Under its policy governance model, ICCSD’s board can hold one employee accountable–the superintendent. Good governance starts at the top.
Iowa City CSD educational staff are committed to providing the best educational services they can for learners in the Iowa City CSD. District procedures and practices, however, hinder their abilities to provide those services. This was evidenced by interviews as well as a large number of violations. (Report p. 32)
ICCSD board member, Phil Hemingway, was right when he expressed his concern that the district “lawyered up” instead of just complying. The solution is to comply.
A child with a disability often has many barriers to learning, and the percentage of special education students who qualify for free and reduced lunch is likely higher than ICCSD’s overall percentage of 35.7%. Children with disabilities are a vulnerable population.
Among other requirements, the law is clear parents are entitled to participate in meetings about and be involved in placement decisions concerning their child with a disability. Further, schools must provide prior written notice to parents before changing that same child’s Individual Education Program (IEP). Failure to comply with the law can result in a child not receiving services he or she is legally entitled to as each eligible child with a disability is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
One of the responsibilities of the implementation advisor will be to ensure that the district understands the substantive nature of the violations (Report p.7).
ICCSD’s recent enrollment report on page 44 shows over one thousand (>1,000) students are enrolled in special education or about 9.4% of its weighted enrollment. State auditors did not audit each IEP.
The Report shows that the Grant Wood Area Education Association had initially identified 105 IEPs for children where new IEP meetings were required. [T]he Department of Education reviewed an additional random sample of 50 IEPs for compliance. In those IEPs, 68 additional individual citations were identified (Report p. 7). Not good.
Eleven (11) pages of the Report addressed ICCSD’s special education Finance Status (Report pp. 21-31), including that ICCSD incurred the largest deficit in the state, exceeding those of the next highest district by over $1.2 million each year (Report p. 21) and that additional training is needed to ensure proper account coding (Report p. 30). So there may be financial repercussions that negatively impact ICCSD’s general fund although ICCSD may be able to claim additional reimbursement from Medicaid (Report p. 25).
ICCSD’s corporate culture did not escape rebuke (Report pp. 8-9).
Additionally, numerous interviewees described the district culture as “retaliatory.” Several people interviewed expressed reluctance to express opinions or make requests that were known to be different than those of district administration. We encourage the district to reflect on the message and method of communication to staff and effect on the district culture.
ICCSD’s Superintendent Stephen Murley noted this concern in this news report .
Murley said the district also plans to address those issues.
“Part of our concern is where that is coming from,” Murley said. “That may be very localized at a building level so we’ll be looking to see where that’s happening so we can correct that.”
If retaliation is occurring, it could be in contravention of ICCSD’s Superintendent Directions in its School Board Policies, which provide as follows:
STAFF RELATIONS (LEVEL 2b):
The Superintendent shall (LEVEL 3b):
2. Allow any staff member to express an ethical dissent, without consequence. (Board Policy 401.1)
3. Allow staff members to communicate with Board members, either individually or as a Board, with regard to any matter, especially any assertions that board policies have been violated or that those policies do not adequately protect their human rights. (Board Policy 104, 401.1)
4. Inform staff of their rights under this policy. (Board policy 401.1)
Retaliation may also be illegal (see here and #6 here).
ICCSD must comply and audit compliance. Corrective measures must have credibility to be successful. Since these problems arose under the superintendent’s watch, Mr. Murley is not the proper party to further investigate or oversee corrective action. Independent and transparent oversight is necessary. The state required “implementation advisor” (Report pp. 7-8), should report independently and publicly to the entire board at each future meeting.
Educating all children, including those with disabilities, is equitable and right, and these children deserve no less.