CCA and GHLA File Complaint with State Department of Education

Center for Children's Advocacy
January 29, 2010

CCA and GHLA File Complaint with State Department of Education on Behalf of Hartford Special Education Students at 2550 Main Street Academy

Special Education Services Required by State and Federal Law not Provided for Hartford Students

2550 Main Street Academy is Hartford’s public school for middle and high school students with special education needs, including behavioral health issues and learning disabilities. Opened at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, the program was created after the Center for Children’s Advocacy filed a Complaint in June, 2009 with the State Department of Education (SDE) regarding the lack of appropriate educational and related services and the shortcomings of the physical facility at the Hartford Transitional Learning Academy at Hartford Magnet Middle School (HTLA-HMMS). Upon investigation in response to the original Complaint, SDE found violations of state and federal special education law in addition to state disciplinary and school hour requirements.

The new program at 2550 Main Street does not resolve many of the issues that were noted in the initial Complaint by attorneys and educational consultants from the Center for Children’s Advocacy.

By law, special education students in Hartford Public Schools are entitled to a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE), provided without discrimination based on their disability. Additionally, special education students have the same educational guarantees as students attending regular classes, such as protections against bullying and sexual harassment, limitations on types of discipline and annual school hour requirements.

The Class Administrative Complaint filed on January 29, 2010 by the Center for Children’s Advocacy (CCA) and Greater Hartford Legal Aid (GHLA) outlines a history of the district’s failure to provide appropriate services to students in Hartford’s special education programs, many of which were consolidated into the 2550 Main St. Academy at the start of the 2009-2010 school year. In the Complaint, CCA and GHLA contend that Hartford has systematically denied 2550 Main St. Academy students their rights under state and federal law by:

1. Failing to provide special education and related services in such a way as to confer on the class meaningful educational benefit;

2. Failing to provide educational services in the least restrictive environment;

3. Excluding students from participation in school programs and activities based solely on their disability;

4. Failing to comply with disciplinary requirements; and

5. Failing to provide a safe school environment.

According to the Complaint, the approximately 70 students at 2550 Main St. Academy at times only had access to one special education teacher, making it impossible for them to receive individualized, differentiated instruction as required by law. Coupled with the lack of appropriate instruction, the chaotic school environment and lack of a consistently implemented behavior management system prevent students from making educational progress.

“This program sets students up for failure by not providing them with necessary educational services that are critical to future success,” said CCA Attorney Hannah Benton. “We observed students wandering the halls and the school parking lot during class time, a lack of instructional materials and classroom equipment, and inconsistent and excessively punitive disciplinary procedures. Because these issues historically persisted at the HTLA programs and now at 2550 Main St., we have requested that the State appoint an independent monitor to ensure that these students receive appropriate educational programming.”

In addition to complete isolation from their non-disabled peers, HPS does not provide students at 2550 with the same access to instructional materials, physical education, electives, or extracurricular activities as regular education students receive.

In the Complaint, CCA and GHLA requested that Connecticut’s State Department of Education take the following actions to protect the rights of these children and assure them an appropriate educational environment:

1. Appoint an independent monitor with authority to ensure that Hartford provides an appropriate education for these students, including the authority to conduct on-site observations, interviews of students and parents, and records review.

2. If Hartford maintains a program similar to 2550 Main St., such a program must be redesigned to provide non-discriminatory, appropriate educational services to these children.

3. Review of the educational programs for all children enrolled at 2550 Main St. to ensure that they are designed to provide educational benefit as well as provision of compensatory educational services for these children.

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