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Lipton: EAA mistreats special ed students

John Covington, EAA chancellor

John Covington, EAA chancellor

By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT—In April, the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) reported more than 5,000 discipline-related infractions occurred over a five month period in its 15 Detroit schools. Offenses ranged from fights to truancy to gambling and disorderly conduct, according to published reports.

State Rep. Ellen Cogen-Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, and Wayne RESA Special ED Parent Advocate Aurora Harris say they believe they have a partial explanation — the EAA is mistreating and reclassifying special education students, depriving them of the support they need by ignoring the federally mandated Individual Education Plans (IEP) required for children with special needs.

“The EAA handling of special ed students is of deep concern,” Lipton told the general membership of the Detroit Chapter NAACP at its May 23 meeting.

In April, Lipton, who sits on the House Education Committee, paid the EAA over $2,600 to obtain over 1,200 pages of information from the experimental schools established by Gov. Rick Snyder with the cooperation of DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and Eastern Michigan University, whose board of regents are gubernatorial appointees. Lipton has posted the documents for public view on her Web site (www.027.house dems.com/publications).

When the EAA took over 15 DPS schools, there were 1,800 students with IEPs in those buildings, Lipton said. The EAA hired an out-of-state consultant who advised the EAA on which students they should and shouldn’t take.

“The end result, when the EAA opened its doors in September 2012, there were only about 800 students with an IEP,” she said.

While some students might have been weeded out, the EAA also changed the IEPs or either decertified the students as special ed, Lipton said. It was strongly suggested to parents that if they wanted to enroll their children, they had to waive the IEP, she said. Many parents unknowingly waived their children’s right to benefit from an IEP, signing many documents at once without reading each one.

Aurora Harris, a longtime advocate for special ed students and one of five parent advocates for Wayne RESA, confirmed the reports that procedural safeguards are easily ignored.

By law, IEPs are worked out with a team of educators, psychologists and the parents. Michigan and the federal government require an IEP for each special ed student, no matter how poor a district may say it is, Harris said.

Parents are presented with their rights in a document of almost 20 pages printed in tiny type, which they are required to sign. They don’t take the time to read. Then when services aren’t provided, and when the children exhibit behavior problems — a hallmark of special ed students — trouble follows.

Harris described how parents unable to resolve issues with the “hostile” schools often get angry and are banned. Once banned, parents must request in writing permission to reenter school property or be subject to arrest.

“If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist,” Harris said. Informing parents of their rights is a job that occupies parent advocates who are working without sufficient resources, she said.

Parents look at school officials as authorities, Harris said, which complicates the situation and often allows schools to compromise delivery of services to the children.

EAA re-categorized many students — Lipton said she believes illegally — minimizing their impairments to allow the EAA to provide less service. Some students, for example, dropped from 15 hours a week of support to three, according to Lipton. As a result, students struggled and, in frustration, acted out. All of this resulted in suspensions in excess of 180 days, Lipton said.

Special ed students’ behavior is always a problem, Harris said. Addressing the students’ behavior issues is one part of the IEP.

Suspensions over 10 days are illegal, Harris noted. Kicking students out repeatedly puts them in the school-to-prison pipeline. With the second expulsion, the child enters into the criminal justice system, she said.

In addition, the EAA’s failure to provide adequate education for special ed students affects the finances of DPS, Lipton said.

Parents dealing with long-term suspension, Lipton said, sought help from DPS. The percentage of special ed students enrolled in DPS has risen since the EAA’s beginning. Since many came to DPS after count day, the state aid dollars did not follow. DPS now has about 25 percent special ed students, Lipton said, and that requires more money. It is a burden on an already financially struggling district.

One solution for Harris is educating parents so they know what rights their children have under the law. She sees special education as a civil right.

For Lipton, citizens must “make sure the EAA doesn’t go beyond the Interlocal Agreement.”  Political pressure must be brought to keep the Senate from acting on the EAA expansion legislation they are scheduled to consider in July, she said. The House already passed the legislation, which would codify and make the EAA a school district.

For Keep the Vote No Takeover founder Helen Moore, the resolution is the destruction of the EAA that could not exist without DPS buildings, equipment and students. It means parents must not enroll their children in the EAA.

“Don’t take them to the EAA, and it collapses,” Moore says at every meeting she attends.

A call to EAA spokesperson Tyrone Winfrey had not been returned by press time.

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