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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida school districts under investigation for alleged discrimination against special needs students

Prompted by complaints from a parents group in Collier County, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating whether 64 of Florida’s 67 school districts have violated civil rights laws when it comes to teaching students with special needs.

Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties are among the districts under scrutiny. Pinellas is not.

Collier-ESE-Reform, the group behind the effort, has a long history with this issue, which you can read about in its 21-page missive to the USDOE. The group says the Florida Department of Education is part of the problem. It points to this March 23 email from DOE as evidence the agency is "abdicating jurisdiction and authority."

"We found that what was going on in Collier County is going on across the state," Cathy Cannivet, the group’s president, told the Naples Daily News this week. "The Florida Department of Education and the school districts are failing to inform parents of their rights under ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act)."

Cannivet told The Gradebook that a similar complaint was filed in the past against Pinellas, and that it entered into a settlement agreement with OCR. We could not immediately determine from USDOE or Pinellas officials what prompted the complaint or when it was resolved.

A USDOE spokesman wrote via email that the Office of Civil Rights can’t comment about the investigation until it is complete. He also wrote: "Opening a complaint for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination on the merits of the case. Rather, the office is merely a neutral fact-finder. It will collect and analyze all relevant evidence from the parties involved in the case to develop its findings."

t’s not clear how long the investigation will take.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:25am]


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