The Michigan Department of Education (“MDE”) has crossed the point of no return. Their actions regarding the investigation and issuing of Final Reports, pursuant to parents, advocates and concerned citizens submitting written special education complaints, are nothing short of in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) 2004. A thirty-nine year old/young federal special education law, that has failed to deliver on the promise of a Free Appropriate Public Education to students with disabilities, is dying in Michigan from a lack of oversight by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. This is a boon for states like Michigan, working to violate the educational rights of the children.
On August 9, 2014, I received a Final Report on a special education written complaint (known as a Part B/Part B IDEA complaint) that I filed against the MDE. My complaint alleged that the Department had violated state and federal special education laws, by not investigating and issuing a Final Report on a written complaint filed against one of our Bad Boy districts, the Southfield Public Schools, on Jan. 7, 2014. Instead of conducting an investigation, the MDE reached “resolution” with the school district, around me and my co-complainant, the parent of a student in the 1st grade. We would not have known had we not been copied on a May 14, 2014 letter from the MDE, letting the district know that the case was being closed due to providing all of the paperwork required in the resolution agreement.
The parent and I said, Huh? Are you kidding us? The little boy at the center of this complaint had now gone 8 ½ months with no special education services? We emailed the MDE and its cast of disingenuous staff. One of them, Harvalee Saunto responded that the MDE had reached resolution and had copied me and my co-complainant on a Feb. 7, 2014 on a letter that we never received. Ms. Saunto then emailed only me a copy of this letter.
Over the past eighteen months I have had to file a growing number of special education complaints against the MDE for failing to lawfully investigate parents’ complaints. Still, this latest move by the MDE was beyond the pale. So I filed yet another complaint against the MDE, for failing to follow the IDEA 2004 and Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education, pursuant to the investigation of a special education written complaint. This should have been a slam dunk. Then again this is the MDE.
Well, the MDE found themselves “in compliance” on all allegations. This renegade State Department of Ed pronounced that parents no longer have a right to file special education complaints, and when filed they will be ignored. School districts can simply submit a “resolution agreement” that will stop any investigation. The MDE had the audacity to justify this convoluted finding by inaccurately citing “resolution procedures” used in Kansas and Idaho. What, all of a sudden, Kansas and Idaho define IDEA? In any event, the MDE misquoted their procedures. They suggested that in Kansas and Idaho the Department of Ed reaches resolution around parents all the time. Yeah, right!
Then they cited an imaginary dialogue with Office of Civil Rights staff. They went outside of IDEA and looked to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for guidance. The MDE documented that the OCR holds a school district in higher esteem than the parent. The OCR gives “deference to the school district”.
This too is nuts. The U.S. Department of Ed, Office of Special Education Programs, “Dispute Resolution, Questions & Answers, 2013” along with “commentary” in the Federal Register, recognize that
“…a strong State complaint system provides parents and other individuals an opportunity to resolve disputed early without having to file a due process complaint and without having to go to a due process hearing. 71 FR. 46600 (August 14, 2006).
Accordingly, through its Part B State complaint procedures, each State has a powerful tool to address noncompliance with Part B of the IDEA and its implementing regulations in a manner that both supports and protects the interests of children with disabilities and their parents and facilitates ongoing compliance by the State and its public agencies with the IDEA and its implementing regulations. 71 FR.46601 (August 14, 2006.”
The MDE is violating the IDEA 2004 every day. They are getting away with it because Ed Secretary Arne Duncan’s U.S. Department of Ed is less accountable to students with special needs and the IDEA than when George Bush was President and Margaret Spellings was Ed Secretary. As a Democrat, I got more done with Margaret Spellings as Ed Secretary and Kerri Briggs as Assistant Secretary than I do with Arne Duncan and Michael Yudin. Shame on them.
Shame on the Michigan Department of Education and State Superintendent Mike Flanagan. If this Department run amuck thinks I will go away or stop filing complaints, they haven’t read the memos. I will fight as long as I am 6′ above ground and can walk and talk…and if I can’t walk, then as long as I can talk. Henry David Thoreau lived believing that we must challenge government and evil. So did Martin Luther King. And I will…