Children held in detention are entitled under state and federal law to both a regular education, as well as the special education services specified in their Individual Educational Programs (“IEP”s). The Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center (“CCJDC”) is systematically failing to provide children with disabilities detained there with all the special education services to which they are entitled. We suspect that this is also true for children in other detention centers throughout the state. Under state and federal law, the duty to provide special educational services lies with the school district in which the child’s family resides.
The failure to provide these services means that children with special educational needs are deprived of equal access to a free and appropriate public education while housed in the detention center.
On March 19, 2015, we filed an administrative complaint with the Ohio Department of Education (“ODE”) on behalf of J.C. and all similarly situated students who were entitled to, and denied, special educational services to which they were entitled while detailed at the CCJDC. J.C. is a young woman who was detained from October 2012 through January 2013, and from May 2013 to September 2014. While in school in the Warrensville Heights School District, J.C. received special education services pursuant to an IEP designed to provide her an appropriate education. During her confinements, totaling nearly 22 months, at CCJDC, J.C. did not receive the instruction outlined in her IEP.
As a result of our Complaint, ODE assigned its Office for Exceptional Children (OEC) to undertake an extensive investigation into not just the facts surrounding J.C. and her home school district, but of the education of every special education student from every school district that had had a student housed in the CCJDC for 10 or more days during the period that J.C. was there. OEC examined the records of hundreds of special education students who were housed in CCJDC during the relevant time period, the special education policies and practices of dozens of school districts that were the home districts of those children, and the special education policies, practices, and resources of the CCJDC.
On July 30, 2015, OEC ultimately determined that 14 school districts had failed to meet the special education requirements of 159 students housed at CCJDC during the time period in question. OEC issued a Findings Letter to each of these school districts, setting forth the specific deficiencies in each child’s services, a set of deadlines by which the district must take corrective actions to overhaul its handling of special education services for children detained at the CCJDC, and provisions that will allow the OEC to monitor the implementation of the corrective actions and audit the district’s special education services to detained students through May 31, 2016. Each letter also requires the district to offer compensatory educational services to the children to whom services were denied. If the school districts do not comply with the requirements of the Findings Letters, the OEC will employ a system of progressive sanctions that go so far as to include the suspension of special education funds to a district.
After the deadline set by the OEC passed on May 31, 2016, we began to review the incoming reports of school districts’ provision of compensatory educational services to the children whose services had been denied, as well as the status of the districts’ compliance in taking the required corrective actions to provide services for other current and future students. With the highest number of students at CCJDC during the disputed period, it took some time for Cleveland Municipal School District to offer compensatory education to those students, and the OEC eventually incorporated its Urban Support Team to assist Cleveland in achieving compliance. On December 28, 2017, we received OEC’s final report on Cleveland.