USDOE settles with ASDOE over civil rights complaints
Four complaints regarding the treatment by the local Education Department (ASDOE) of students with special needs filed and investigated by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) were recently addressed when the USDOE issued its findings and conclusions for these cases.
(Samoa News reported in the past on two other OCR complaints from local parents, but it’s unclear if there were other complaints that Samoa News was not aware of being filed.)
OCR has also reached a settlement agreement with ASDOE to resolve the complaints, which focus on four students with disabilities during school year 2013- 14. The OCR revealed the parents of one student with special needs was forced to move to the US because ASDOE failed to provide services for the student.
One of the parents, who filed one of the four complaints, received this week from OCR a response, which revealed the cases of not only the parent’s complaint but of the three other complaints. The students are identified in the report as Student A, Student B, Student C and Student D.
OCR advised the parent, who shared with Samoa News the OCR letter and agreement, ASDOE “may not harass, coerce, intimidate, or discriminate against any individual because he or she has filed a complaint or participate in the complaint resolution process”. And if this happens, the parent is advised to file another complaint alleging such treatment.
Additionally, ASDOE Acting Director Philo Jennings signed on Oct. 11 a settlement agreement to resolve legal issues in the OCR investigation of the four complaints. The 11-page agreement outlines what ASDOE needs to do in order to be in compliance and the time frame to achieve it.
The complaints from the four parents accused ASDOE of violating provisions of federal law, which prohibit disability discrimination in programs and activities receiving financial assistance from USDOE and by public entities, respectively.
Because ASDOE, a public entity, receives USDOE financial assistance, it is therefore subject to those federal laws.
According to OCR, its findings and conclusions are based upon information and documents provided by the four parents and by ASDOE, which has made a commitment - through the settlement agreement - to undertake actions that, when completed, will fully address the violations identify by OCR in all four related complaints.
OCR’s investigation focused on four legal issues, such as Issue One on whether ASDOE discriminated against the four students based on disability by failing to provide services necessary for students to receive a free appropriate public education including:
• behavior services;
• occupational therapy;
• speech, language, and communication services;
• psychological evaluation; physical therapy; and assistive technology.
The four students with disability attended different elementary schools and the OCR investigation report detailed its findings, which covers interviews with ASDOE personnel who worked or dealt with students with special needs.
The OCR report cited problems in which ASDOE wasn’t able to provide consistent service to the four students, and in one incident a parent had to pay $50 per week for three hours of behavior support and counseling services for a student.
In another incident, a parent requested ASDOE to provide their child speech, language and communication services. However, ASDOE did not have a speech and language pathologist (SLP) so the student’s teacher would provide the services with the assistance of an applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapist.
Because ASDOE didn’t have a licensed SLP on staff for school year 2013/ 2014, ASDOE contracted sporadically with a licensed SLP based in Hawai’i for the school year. The SLP’s contract was to provide visits to American Samoa quarterly. However, the contracted SLP didn’t evaluate one student; provide services to him; or train teachers to provide him services for the entire school year.
And because ASDOE didn’t provide the student with the required services, the parents decided to move back to the US mainland in June 2014 in order for their son to receive such services.
The OCR report revealed that during the same school year, ASDOE employed one physical therapist, which is responsible for providing such services to all ASDOE students who need physical therapy services to access their education.
And the physical therapist told OCR that during the school year, he was responsible for providing such services to about 41 students across American Samoa requiring a lot of driving and “making it impossible to provide daily physical therapy services to students.”
Additionally, the physical therapist stated the physical therapy services he provided for ASDOE students were school-based interventions, which are not the same as clinically therapeutic interventions in a rehabilitation setting.
Also revealed is that ASDOE didn’t have an occupational therapist and therefore couldn’t provide such services to students, who needs it.
Based on its findings, OCR determined that “ASDOE has violated” provisions of federal law with regards to Legal Issue One. OCR said its investigation established that “ASDOE has continuing and systemic failures to provide special education students with the necessary services due to a lack of professionals to provide those services”.
Additionally, “ASDOE had no occupational therapist or school psychologist on staff.”
While ASDOE recently contracted with a speech language pathologist from Hawai’i, the individual comes to ASDOE quarterly to conduct some evaluations and does some training and her schedule was “insufficient to meet the needs of ASDOE’s disabled students with speech and language service needs.”
Furthermore, ASDOE had a physical therapist on staff, but one person is not sufficient to provide services for all ASDOE’s disabled students who require physical therapy, according to OCR’s findings.
In response, OCR says ASDOE has voluntarily agreed to resolve the violations as set forth in the settlement agreement which, when fully implemented, will resolved this violation. OCR will monitor ASDOE’s implementation of the agreement and will close the complaints when OCR determines the terms of the agreement have been satisfied.
Samoa News will report further on the other legal issues cited in OCR’s investigation as well as provisions of the settlement agreement.