San Bernardino County reaches agreement to improve youth disability services

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The Department of Education announced a resolution agreement [PDF] August 5 with the nation’s largest county to overhaul its services for students with disabilities in its county’s juvenile jails and alternative schools.

“We found in the investigation that in fact the county did not have an effective data tracking system to ensure that students would be identified or evaluated for disabilities,” said Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary of the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights, told the Los Angeles Times. “I am very pleased with the county’s willingness to do right by its students.”

As part of its investigation, the DOE identified a range of violations in the County’s two juvenile court schools and 14 alternative schools, where students are placed following expulsion or truancy.

Among the reported violations, the County allegedly failed to conduct individualized evaluations for students in these schools. In fact, it proscribes a fixed amount of specialized instructional time for the students, regardless of their individual needs. It also found a shoddy reporting and a lack of proper staff training for such students.

Under the agreement, the San Bernardino County Superintendent of School will implement a standard record keeping system, to ensure students are properly identified and evaluated. It will also hire a project manager and develop a comprehensive monitoring and assessments system, among other requirements. Existing Individualized Education Plans and Section 504 Plans will be automatically reviewed.

“All students, including students in alternative and juvenile court schools, deserve equal access to a high-quality public education,” Lhamon said in a news release. “In providing strong and effective systems to identify, evaluate, and serve students with disabilities, these schools can stop the cycle of revolving placements, place students with disabilities on a path to educational success, and remove them from the school-to-prison pipeline.”