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Formal State Complaints: When a Child’s Special Education Rights are Violated

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If a parent—or anyone concerned about a child—believes a child’s special education rights have been violated (including if they believe the child should be receiving special education services, but the child is not) they can file a Formal State Complaint with the Mississippi State Department of Education (MDE). According to the MDE (page 12), the written complaint may be in a letter or on MDE’s form. The violation must have occurred within the past year. Along with writing the MDE, you should also send a copy of the complaint to the school district involved.

The complaint must include:

  • A statement that the school district has violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
  • The reasons why the complainant believes IDEA has been violated, including copies of any documentation that support the allegation and general dates if possible;
  • A description of the nature of the problem of the child, including facts relating to the problem;
  •  A proposed resolution of the problem;
  • The signature and contact information for the person filing the complaint; and
  • The name of the school the child is attending. In the case of a homeless child (defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act), you should include any contact information for the child and the school attending.

The MDE will forward a copy of the complaint to the school district within three business days of receipt. The school district and parent may choose mediation to resolve the complaint or opt for more formal methods. The school district must be allowed to submit a written response to the allegations in the State complaint within the timelines specified by the MDE.

The school district’s response:

  • Must include a statement about the issues in the complaint;
  • May include a proposal for resolution; and
  • May include a proposal to mediate.

The MDE will issue a written “Findings and Decision” within sixty (60) calendar days of receiving the Formal State Complaint. The MDE sends its written decision to the complainant and the school district. The response includes:

  • A statement of the allegation(s) investigated;
  • Findings of fact and a conclusion for each allegation investigated, including a statement of whether or not a violation of requirement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) occurred, and the reasons for the conclusion;
  • The corrective actions the school district must implement, including the correction of all identified cases of noncompliance, including any noncompliance discovered during the investigation unrelated to the original complaint;
  • Additional corrective action of specific regulatory requirements to ensure continued compliance for any findings of systemic or substantive violations;
  • Timelines for completing the corrective actions; and
  • Assignment of an MDE contact person for technical assistance in completing the corrective actions.

The school district must submit an Improvement Plan upon receiving the Findings and Decision document.

These are some of the most common reasons why families supported by Families as Allies file Formal State Complaints:

1. Child Find Violation: The district refuses or fails to evaluate a child suspected of having a disability. (For example, school personnel know that the child has a mental health diagnosis and receives mental health services, yet suspends or expels that child for behavior rather than evaluating them for a suspected disability under IDEA. Similarly, school personnel have ignored a parent’s repeated evaluation request.)

2. Failure to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): The district fails to meet the unique needs of each child.

3. Inadequate Individualized Education Program (IEP): The district hasn’t appropriately designed an IEP to help the child make meaningful educational progress. Progress is the cornerstone of FAPE.

4. The district fails to hold an IEP meeting when the child is not making appropriate progress.

5. Inappropriate or inadequate placement decisions: Placement must be based on a child’s needs. It cannot be based on cost or availability.

6. Use of predetermined placements: Placements must be based upon the goals of the IEP, not where the district always sends children with a particular diagnosis or disability.

7. Changing placement without changing the IEP: The district must show that it has made every effort to educate children in their Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) before switching to a more restrictive environment.

8. District refusal of a parental written request: For example, a parent sends a letter requesting appropriate services for their child and gives the district seven days to respond but gets no response.

9. The district fails to respond to a request for Independent Education Evaluation (IEE). Parents have the right to ask for an IEE at public expense.

10. Procedural violations: Denial of parents’ right to participate* in meetings.

11. No or inadequate Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) for students who need them: A child with behavioral challenges does not have a BIP, or the behavioral supports in the BIP are inadequate/inappropriate and do not meet the child’s needs. (For instance, the child is constantly suspended for behavior.)

12. Predetermining outcomes of Manifestation Determination Review (MDR) meetings: Parents must have input during the MDR meeting.

*Remember that districts can still hold meetings if families are notified of meetings but choose not to attend.

[Photo by Thomas Lefebvre on Unsplash]

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