Investigation Finds Multiple Violations of Special Education Law at Warren County Educational Services Center

January 25, 2023

Following complaints of violations of special education law in the Warren County Educational Service Center (ESC), Disability Rights Ohio filed a complaint asking that the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations. Chief among the complaints was the lack of adequate Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that meet students’ specific needs, failure to implement students’ IEPs, as well as evidence that students were not being placed in the least restrictive environment. There are 51 ESCs throughout Ohio that are designed to provide specialized educational services to school districts and students with disabilities.

In addition, it was asserted that students with suspected disabilities were not being properly identified or evaluated prior to being placed at the ESC, nor were the ESC staff providing specially designed instruction appropriately licensed to do so. Moreover, it was alleged that students were not receiving positive behavioral interventions or supports to meet their needs, did not have access to regular academic instruction or general education curriculum, and did not have access to non-academic or extra-curricular activities.

“In 2021, DRO filed a complaint on behalf of two named students, and the class of all similarly situated students, who were placed at the Warren County ESC by their public-school districts,” said Kristin Hildebrant, DRO Senior Attorney. “During the course of our inquiries, we found significant violations of law. Students were being placed without a proper evaluation to determine if placement was warranted. Once placed, the districts failed to send representatives to any IEP meetings, nor did they keep track of services recommended or progress made by their students. We felt that an investigation into these and other practices was long overdue and fully justified.”

The subsequent investigation by ODE found that all 43 school districts sending students to the Warren County ESC had at least one violation of special education law. More than half of the students reviewed by ODE lacked access to academic instruction and/or adequate IEPs that addressed their individual needs, and at least 53 students did not have adequate justification for being placed in the ESC.

The consequences of the investigation are far-reaching. As a result of its findings, the ODE ordered all 43 school districts to attend professional development programs on IEPs and Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Thirty-seven districts must review and correct inadequate IEPs, and 41 districts must create policies and/or monitoring teams to better track the services being provided and progress their children are making. 91 students will each receive an average of 57 hours of compensatory education for IEP services they did not receive.

“DRO’s mission is to ensure that students with disabilities receive access to appropriate educational opportunities,” noted Kerstin Sjoberg, DRO's Executive Director. “We want to safeguard the rights of every child and guarantee that Ohio complies with those laws designed to give all Ohio students with disabilities an appropriate education in the least restrictive setting. We are gratified that appropriate changes have been recommended to guarantee the students of Warren County the best possible learning environment.”

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