Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Stark Similarities Between Fox C-6 and Lee's Summit R-7 School Districts!

I received an email today from a parent in Lee's Summit, Missouri. They found my blog and wanted to discuss with me the similarities between their school district and Fox C-6. Their email said that they already sent information from my blog to the Assistant Attorney General to provide comparison information.

Here is the list of similarities sent to me by a parent in the Lee's Summit R-7 school district.

Similarities Between Fox C-6 and Lee's Summit R-7:
  • OCR Resolution Agreement for Not Following Civil Rights Laws
  • Cease and Desist Orders Against People Who Question District Actions
  • Board Meetings Not Videotaped and Available For Broadcast
  • Violations of Board Policies, Federal, State and Local Laws
  • Questionable Use of Taxpayers' Funds
  • Educator Certification Issues
  • Failure By Board To Respond To Patrons' Concerns
  • Retaliation Against Anyone Who Questions The Board and Their Actions
  • Superintendent Does Not Want Community To Know About Resolution Agreement With OCR.
  • Taxpayer Dollars Used To Pay Attorneys to Fight Against Lawsuits When If They Followed The Laws, The Money Could Be Spent On The Education Of District Students
  • DESE Passes The Buck Back To Parents To Complain To Board and Nothing Gets Corrected On Behalf of Students
  • Community Only Reads All Of The District Generated Positive Public Relations Articles
  • District Boasts of Awards They Have Received (Questionable Data To Back Up These Awards.  Would An Award Even Be Justified If The Recipient Stated Up Front That They Are Being Monitored By the Department  of Education Office For Civil Rights For Non-Compliance Of Civil Rights Laws?)

After I read their list of similarities, I had to laugh because of how similar the problems are in Lee's Summit R-7 compared to Fox C-6. You can see that there are quite a few.
They stated in their email that there are many more.

First, you have to understand that many of the school districts in our state are represented by only a few law firms. Many of the attorneys in these firms have worked with or for the same firms before splitting or starting their own firms. Therefore, the same strategies and tactics are employed by nearly all of the districts in the state on legal issues. Plus, there are quite a few books out there as well on dealing with the media as a school district superintendent with useful tips on what and what not to do. It's all about controlling the image and perception of your school district. It's the superintendent's job to make their district look good.

For several years now I have known about issues in other school districts in our state as I researched the issues going on in the Fox district. But, seeing a list from another parent on the other side of the state proves that we have some serious problems with MO DESE and with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (ED OCR) in Kansas City, Missouri. 

U.S. Department of Justice Gets Involved
In speaking recently with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), I learned that the DOJ now has the ability to initiate their own independent investigations when ED OCR refuses to do so. Of course it helped that the USDA OCR Office asked the DOJ for assistance in getting Fox C-6 to comply with the USDA's August 2011 Final Agency Decision. The August 2011 USDA Final Agency Decision found both the Fox C-6 School District and MO DESE non-compliant with Section 504 and the ADA. So, in their efforts to bring the district into compliance if MO DESE doesn't do their job, the DOJ has been asking for documentation for their case against the school district. We are quite happy to supply them with the information we have. I also asked the DOJ about handling retaliation since that is directly written into the laws and they do cover that as well.

For example, there have been a lot of online libelous and defamatory attacks made against citizens who voice their concerns about our school district in online forums. And, what I find interesting about some of the comments made by these anonymous posters is that they seem to have access to information that only our top administrators would know about. For example when cease and desist letters were sent out and how someone made a reference about something happening before they were even sent.

Could it be a coincidence that these "anonymous" people have access to this information or are they just school supporters guessing? It's quite obvious that a few people in our school district don't like some of the questions posed at school board meetings by a few citizens in our community.

It's kind of humorous that the Character Education Trait of the month for June at Fox is Perseverance. That's the word that will hopefully be remembered by our school administrators and school board members as to how change is invoked in our community. I have been thanked by many teachers and staff for my efforts on calling out our school district's administration and school board. There are a few others in our community that are not afraid to speak out. They should be thanked as well. Hopefully in the end all of this effort will bring about a positive change within our school district.

It appears that Lee's Summit R-7 has a Resolution Agreement with ED OCR similar to Fox. However, Fox is also still undergoing a District Wide Compliance Review that Lee's Summit has not had yet. Fox's District Wide Compliance Review was initiated in March 2010 by ED OCR and it is still open as well according to a recent Freedom of Information Act request stating that ED OCR couldn't provide any information because the investigation was still ongoing.

I am hoping that providing this information and more to the U.S Department of Justice regarding problems with school districts in our state will lead to changes at MO DESE and ED OCR. ED OCR has allowed Fox C-6 to get by with doing practically nothing towards fulfilling the Resolution Agreement signed by the district in May 2009. You must be wondering why our school board hasn't done something to make sure Fox complies with Federal laws.

USDA Works Towards Enforcement
USDA OCR has been aware of problems in our state since 2008. In fact, in 2008 the USDA specifically came to Missouri to retrain districts after the USDA watched a video presented by attorneys at their annual school law seminar. Fox C-6 did not attend the training. The training was presented to the Food Nutrition Directors in our state. Maybe that's why our former Food Nutrition Director retired. Our district has a new Food Nutrition Services Director who is the daughter in law of one of our school board members. Our new Food Nutrition Director has been given two years to get her degree and certification to do her job since she only had a high school diploma when she was hired into the position with a salary of $65,000. I'm still wondering why Fox refused to meet with the USDA in March 2013 when the USDA came to do a Compliance Review of our district. But, then that was after the August 2012 meetings with the USDA when the district refused to comply with the USDA's Final Agency Decision.

Why would the USDA be more intent on compliance enforcement than ED OCR? I believe it could have something to do with the fact that the USDA's Regional Office is located in Colorado. In contrast, ED OCR's Regional Office is located in Kansas City, Missouri. The Director of the Kansas City ED OCR Office is Angela Bennet. Mrs. Bennet was an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Missouri. William (Bill) Dittmeier is the Chief Attorney for the KC ED OCR Office. Mr. Dittmeier was an attorney that represented the Kansas City School District for years before working at the Kansas City ED OCR Office.

Failings of the Kansas City ED OCR Office
Our experience with the Kansas City ED OCR Office has been quite similar to many others in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. The KC ED OCR office has many investigations that have been open since 2009. Making Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the KC ED OCR Office are supposed to be handled within 20 days. Some requests have required multiple requests and have taken more than 6 months to get a response from this office. A quick search for Bill Dittmeier and Angela Bennet returned a link to the following document from the KC ED OCR office sent to a parent in Oklahoma. It's just another example of what has been happening in this ED OCR Office.

We contacted and voiced our concerns with Randolph Wills the U.S. Department of Education Enforcement Director regarding the Kansas City ED OCR Office a couple of years ago. Mr. Wills is the regional Director that oversees the Kansas City ED OCR Office. Mr. Wills responded a couple of years ago when I first contacted him. He informed me that he would look into our concerns and get back with us. Mr. Wills never got back with me and has not returned phone calls or emails left or sent to him since then. Not responding to concerns seems to be the same tactic taken by many school districts in our state take as well. U.S. Senator Roy Blunt's office even attempted to contact the Kansas City ED OCR Office and experienced similar problems. So this is not an isolated incident.

Since the USDA OCR office is not located in Missouri, there seems to be more enforcement efforts as opposed to ED OCR. ED OCR has allowed cases to remain open for years. Once they have a case go into monitoring ED OCR occasionally sends out monitoring letters to let the district know they still have or haven't complied with their Resolution Agreement. Sometimes it may be more than a year between monitoring letter updates.

The question we have sent KC ED OCR several times is, how many years does ED OCR allow a district to fail in fulfilling a Resolution Agreement before they move to enforcement or opening an investigation?

KC ED OCR responds with a standard letter stating that they will let you know when they plan to send out their next monitoring letter. For example, ED OCR informed us last year that they would be sending out a monitoring letter to Fox C-6 in August 2012. When that letter wasn't sent, they informed us it would be sent in November 2012. Then we were informed it would be sent in January 2013. Then we were told it would be March or April of 2013. ED OCR finally sent the monitoring letter on April 25, 2013. This was after the original April date that we were given. Do you see a pattern or problem here with this office?

Not Just A Statewide Problem
It's very disappointing to know that there are other school districts in our state that are doing the same thing as Fox C-6. It is also very disappointing to know that there are problems in other states that are covered by the Kansas City ED OCR Office as well. When asking ED OCR several times to engage the U.S. Department of Justice since it is documented in their Case Processing Manual that they will do so when a school district does not comply, ED OCR informed us that they weren't going to do so. ED OCR said the district had not indicated that they weren't going to comply. One would think that after 4 years of not complying with the Resolution Agreement and being given numerous updated deadlines, that ED OCR would recognize the fact that the Fox C-6 has no intentions of complying.

Now that the DOJ has informed us that regulations have been updated to allow them to initiate their own investigation independent of ED OCR, perhaps we will see improvements in our state and in the Kansas City ED OCR Office.