Schools Settle With Justice Department Over Discipline Of Students With Autism

by Garfield Hylton, Orlando Sentinel/TNS | August 24, 2021

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Volusia County School District and the U.S. Department of Justice have reached a new agreement on supporting students with disabilities.

Officials investigated whether the district participated in discriminatory and systemic behavior when punishing students with a disability for disability-related behavior, according to the Department of Justice.

Several students, many of whom have autism spectrum disorder, went to legal aid to lodge a formal complaint with the DOJ.

The complaint said the district excluded students from educational programs and services regularly.

School officials made parents or guardians pick up their children, disciplined students for behavior resulting from their disability, and called law enforcement to remove those students from school, according to the DOJ.

Investigators found the district frequently excluded students with disabilities from classrooms and school programs and failed to provide appropriate behavioral support to those students. Instead, district employees would call law enforcement to handle issues.

VCS officials also misused Florida’s Baker Act procedures, allowing students with mental illnesses to be involuntarily submitted to a psychiatric facility for up to 72 hours when specific criteria are met.

The settlement this month with the DOJ now requires the district to revise its policies and practices on attendance, removal, discipline, law enforcement involvement and behavioral support treatments, according to the DOJ.

The district must also provide staff training in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act and establish a complaint procedure and tracking system.

“Students should never be denied their education on the basis of disability, and we will not yield until the full measure of rights guaranteed by the ADA is a reality for all,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The department is committed to enforcing the law to make sure schools meet the needs and respect the rights of all their students.”

© 2021 Orlando Sentinel
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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