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Hartford Discontinues Special Education Program

Instead, district plans to place students in out-of-district settings that meet their individual needs

Steven Goode

August 19, 2010

HARTFORD In an abrupt reversal, city school officials have decided to abandon plans to maintain educational services for students with severe emotional and behavioral disabilities in Hartford.

Instead, the district plans to place the students in out-of-district settings they say will be appropriate to their individual needs.

As recently as three weeks ago, school officials said they were planning to relinquish control of the day-to-day education of the middle- and high-school-aged students to an outside contractor who would provide the appropriate services and operate a facility on Locust Street. District officials would oversee the program.

The contractor would have been responsible for providing education; speech, language, physical and occupational therapy; individual and group counseling; psychiatric and psychological counseling; employment opportunities; a fully developed behavioral management program; and more. But that changed in the last few weeks, according to district officials.

We decided, after issuing the request, that we were not equipped to provide the services and that it would be in the best interests of the students to send them to out-of-district placements," said Miriam Morales-Taylor, assistant superintendent for learning support services.

The district issued the request for interested contractors in the wake of sustained and repeated criticism over its failure to provide proper and equal educational services to students with emotional and behavioral problems.

Over the past five years at least four formal complaints were filed against the district by parents, child advocacy groups and state agencies over the special education program. The complaints were investigated and the allegations supported, resulting in a change of venue and assurances that the problems had been corrected. But the problems persisted, and two separate complaints were filed regarding the 2550 Main Street Academy, opened in 2009.

The state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities investigated one of the complaints and found that the school system was "marginalizing, illegally segregating, failing to educate and impermissibly discriminating against students with serious emotional and behavioral disabilities."

As a result of that investigation, the agency also requested investigations by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights into the district's disciplinary practices, and by the state Department of Education's Bureau of Special Education into the district's placement practices and its student-based budgeting policy.

The latest investigations also prompted the district to look into the short-lived idea of putting the program in the hands of an outside contractor, while keeping it in the city.

Now, the plan is to conduct pupil placement team sessions, known as PPTs, with families of affected students.

Morales-Taylor said the sessions are being conducted now and that all of them will be completed and the students placed before the first day of school on Aug. 30.

James D. McGaughey, executive director of the state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, expressed mixed feelings about the decision, saying that it would probably benefit some of the students, but didn't address the issue of how the district assesses the needs of students in the mainstream population.

The timing of the decision and the promise that students will be placed in out-of-district programs by the first day of school also concerned McGaughey.

"It does not give you a lot of time to identify proper services," he said. "That's worrisome to me."

Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said Thursday that the department expects Hartford to report on the status of every student affected by the decision, including their placement in or out of the district before the school year begins.

Murphy said the department will also continue to monitor the district's remaining special education services.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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