ALERT: DRO Files Due Process Complaint Against Ohio Department of Education and Workforce

February 14, 2024 / education

Today, Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) filed a due process complaint regarding the failure of the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (ODEW) to implement its original requirements to correct violations of special education law in the Warren County Educational Service Center (WCESC). The complaint outlines how ODEW, working with Warren County ESC, and the involved school districts violated state complaint procedures, the Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), and Ohio’s established operating standards for children with disabilities.

The original complaint, filed in May 2022 by DRO, alleged nine violations of special education law. Chief among the grievances was the lack of adequate Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and appropriate behavioral interventions that met students’ specific needs. Additionally, there was evidence that students were not being placed in the least restrictive environment and were denied access to a general education curriculum and specially designed instruction. It was also alleged that staff providing specially designed instruction were not appropriately licensed, students lacked access to extra-curricular activities, and districts were not attending the IEP meetings of students placed at the WCESC to keep track of services provided or the students’ progress.

The subsequent investigation by ODEW found that 44 school districts sending students to the Warren County ESC had at least one violation of special education law. More than half of the students in the sample reviewed by ODE lacked access to academic instruction or adequate IEPs, and at least 53 students did not have adequate justification for being placed in the ESC. As a result of its findings, ODE ordered 42 school districts to attend professional development programs on IEPs and the requirements of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). School districts were also ordered to create internal teams to monitor students placed out of the district, to review and correct inadequate IEPs, and to meet with their students’ families to discuss and track the services being provided and progress their children were making. Students were awarded compensatory education hours for the denial of FAPE, some of them surpassing 100 hours.

However, months after the findings were released, DRO discovered that these corrective action plans were paused and being revised by ODEW after pressure from the WCESC and some school districts, with many students losing compensatory education that they were originally awarded. “We thought that the Warren County ESC was following ODEW’s corrective action plan and was taking steps to address the inadequacies we uncovered,” said Kristin Hildebrant, DRO senior attorney and special education team leader. “However, we learned in mid-2023 that students were not receiving the ODEW-ordered remedies, and that ODEW had, in fact, ‘paused’ all corrective action while its leadership conducted its own investigation. What is so disheartening is that this improper second investigation resulted in many students losing their compensatory education, and parents were not even informed about it. Students at the ESC have significant educational needs and these services are critical for them.”

Hildebrant elaborated, “ODEW is clearly operating outside of all established review processes. Its actions have been kept secret and hidden from DRO, the Office for Exceptional Children (OEC) which conducted the initial investigation and provides IDEA oversight, and the families involved in the initial complaint. More than a year after the initial letter of findings, most students have not received any of the ordered compensatory education. Additionally, many students have now had their compensatory education dramatically reduced or eliminated by ODEW’s unilateral review.”

In its due process filing, DRO asks that ODEW restore the original corrective action plans and, further, conduct a review of the rest of the students that were not included in the original sample to determine if they are entitled to compensatory education. DRO also requests that all students and parents receive written notice of the findings and any awards of compensatory education or other services, and that Warren County ESC or any school district disagreeing with the initial findings be required to use a proper review process, which gives parents the opportunity to participate.

“We do not take lightly our decision to file due process,” DRO Executive Director Kerstin Sjoberg noted, “but we do not condone ODEW’s handling of the situation and working behind closed doors to halt and reconsider the recommendation the agency itself endorsed. We want to continue to ensure that students with disabilities receive the best possible educational opportunities, and that Ohio complies with those laws designed to give students an appropriate education in the least restrictive setting.”

Parents and families impacted by ODE’s decision to reconsider its original findings can contact DRO at for updates and more information.

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