JPS Under Fire

December 01, 2010

Reported in the Clarion Ledger: Probe finds Jackson schools violated federal disability laws

By Kathleen Baydala • kbaydala@clarionledger.com • December 1, 2010

Jackson Public Schools has a month to improve its special education services following a state investigation this fall that found the district was in violation of federal laws meant to protect students with disabilities.

The investigation by the state Department of Education’s Office of Special Education follows a complaint filed by advocates in September on behalf of nine students, alleging JPS denied them “free and appropriate education.”

The complaint states students with emotional and behavioral disabilities were more likely than their peers to be punished for minor disruptions or wearing the wrong uniform colors, suspended, expelled or sent to alternative schools. It also stated students with disabilities who transferred to JPS from another district did not receive timely or appropriate services.

“The Mississippi Department of Education confirmed what Jackson Public School students with disabilities and their parents or guardians have known for a long time: Jackson Public School District violates federal law and seriously neglects students’ chances for success,” Jed Oppenheim, managing advocate for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said during a news conference this morning in downtown Jackson.

“In order to ensure compliance with federal law, the Jackson Public School District must focus on reforming the harmful zero tolerance-like policies that have pushed so many bright students out of school.”

The department’s findings outline actions JPS must take to comply with federal laws. Those actions include districtwide procedures for monitoring students’ progress toward meeting education, emotional and social goals and more training for teachers and administrators who work with students with disabilities.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said the group of students it and Disability Rights Mississippi support in the complaint illustrate the effects of a “systemic problem” on roughly 3,000 JPS students identified as having a disability.

“These are not all students with intellectual disabilities,” Oppenheim said. “Many of these students have the ability to graduate with their non-disabled peers. Yet, only 7.8 percent of students with disabilities graduated (from JPS) in the 2009-2010 school year.”

To comment on this story, call Kathleen Baydala at (601) 961-7262.

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