Saturday, July 6, 2013

Documentation Contradicts Superintendent Dianne Critchlow's Statements at June 2013 Board Meeting!

After I spoke during Public Comments at the June 2013 Fox C-6 School Board meeting regarding an open Resolution Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (ED OCR) and a Final Agency Decision from the USDA Office for Civil Rights (USDA OCR) finding Fox C-6 and Missouri DESE non-compliant with Section 504, ADA and the ADAAA, Superintendent Dianne Critchlow made the following statement:
"We are in compliance with every complaint to date and one is in litigation and we cannot discuss it." 
If you read the Monitoring Letters issued by the ED OCR and the Final Agency Decision from USDA OCR using the links below, you'll find that Superintendent Critchlow's statement was FALSE.

Why would our Superintendent say that we cannot discuss these issues?

The ED OCR Monitoring Letters and USDA OCR's Final Agency Decision don't reflect well on her, the school board or our district. If Superintendent Critchlow is truly keeping our school board informed on these issues, I would think that the board would want to know why it has taken our District more than 4 years to meet the obligations of the Resolution Agreement they signed with ED OCR in May of 2009. Our school board should also be asking why our District is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees rather than correcting their documentation and complying with the law.

I'm sure our Superintendent had no idea that ED OCR would find a lot more problems in our District than just not wanting to properly follow Section 504 law. If you read the ED OCR Monitoring Letters, you'll find that there are a number of problems with the district's policies and handbooks complying with Section 504, ADA and ADAAA. It appeared to be such a systemic issue that the Washington D.C. Office for Civil Rights decided to conduct a District Wide Compliance Review of Fox C-6. The District Wide Compliance Review was initiated in March of 2010 by ED OCR. Fox's attorneys argued that ED OCR was picking on our District and harassing them. Needless to say, ED OCR denied their request to rescind the District Wide Compliance Review. However, the District has done a very good job of dragging things out while spending a lot in legal fees.

I think we should discuss the fact that our District can't seem to accomplish what the they originally agreed to have done by August 31, 2009. By reading through the original Resolution Agreement and then the Monitoring Letters and attorney responses, you'll find that our District informed ED OCR that it would have the policies and procedures updated by July 31, 2010 after it didn't make the 2009 dates. Then in 2012, the District informed ED OCR that they planned on having the updated policies and procedures completed by July of 2012. Well, that didn't happen either! So, here we are in July of 2013 and the District still hasn't completed revising its documentation.

Now that the USDA OCR has asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for assistance in bringing Fox C-6 and Missouri DESE into compliance, it appears to demonstrate the fact that our school district and many like ours simply ignore the federal agencies. I think this is mostly due to the fact that ED OCR "allows" the District to "voluntarily comply". And, since ED OCR just issues new deadlines and doesn't actually perform any enforcement, the school districts ignore them. It will be interesting to see how much money our school board plans to allow our Superintendent to spend on these issues before they decide to comply with the rulings and fulfill their obligations of the Resolution Agreement.

Below you will find some of the documentation showing the District's compliance problems. Our Superintendent has a tendency to just throw out statements thinking or hoping everyone believes her. I provide documentation that shows that what she says isn't always true!

Letters from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (ED OCR) and the USDA OCR document the fact that our district is NOT in full compliance.

The complaints I spoke of at the June 2013 board meeting are not in litigation. Only the Department of Justice can litigate a complaint with the District. Currently the USDA is working with Missouri DESE hoping that MO DESE will bring our district into compliance with the USDA's Final Agency Decision. If MO DESE fails to do so, the DOJ will then step in to bring about compliance. At that time, the District may possibly end up in litigation. But, at the moment, these complaints are not in litigation. Superintendent Critchlow throws out the litigation claim to so she can keep things behind "closed doors" rather than speaking about them in the public session of the board meetings.

UPDATED: On Friday July 12, 2013, Missouri DESE's assistant legal counsel Kris Morrow sent an email stating that "It remains DESE's position that 504 Compliance within the public schools falls under the purview of the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights." following questions sent to Karen Wooton, Missouri DESE's Food Nutrition Director regarding the USDA's August 2011 Final Agency Decision that found MO DESE non-compliant.

Apparently, Ms. Morrow hasn't read the legally binding agreement that Missouri DESE signs with the USDA each year in order to receive their federal funding from the USDA. Ms. Morrow would be well advised to read the April 2011 memo from the USDA OCR office which MO DESE has posted on their website.

Not to rule out any possibilities! But, perhaps Superintendent Critchlow is simply having a difficult time accepting the fact that the Monitoring Letters from ED OCR and the USDA Final Agency Decision aren't accolades for our District. If you're curious, give them a read and see what you think. How would someone document this on their resume as an accomplishment?

Click on the links below to open the documents from ED OCR, USDA OCR and our school district attorneys to get an understanding of how compliant or non-compliant the Fox C-6 School District really is with these agencies. Our school district has certainly invested a lot of money in legal fees just to keep from filling out paperwork like 504 Plans for students in our District!

Documentation From Federal Agencies Contradicts
Superintendent's Statements

May 1, 2009 Fox C-6 School District Resolution Agreement with ED OCR

December 8, 2009 ED OCR Issues First Monitoring Letter to Fox C-6 for May 1, 2009 Resolution Agreement

February 26, 2010 Fox C-6 District Attorney Teri Goldman Response to ED OCR's December 2009 Monitoring Letter and Conference Call

March 11, 2010 ED OCR Complaint Notification to Fox C-6 Regarding Due Process Hearing Officer Selection

March 19, 2010 Fox C-6 District Wide Compliance Review Notification Letter from ED OCR

Due Process Hearing Officer Selection Concerns
Would you be concerned if you were going to be forced to go through a Due Process Hearing against your school district and the school district gets to choose the Due Process Hearing Officer to hear the case? Would you be concerned if the school district chose a Due Process Hearing Officer that was a former law associate of the school district Attorney representing the school district in the Due Process Hearing? How about if you found out that the attorneys co-represented school districts together at law firms against parents? Would you be concerned if you found out that the two attorneys were presenters at a convention answering questions on the rules of Due Process and discussing topics such as "Testifying in Due Process Hearings"?

Section 504 Procedural Safeguards typically state that the parent or the school district can request a Due Process Hearing to resolve disputes with Section 504 decisions. The safeguards state that the school district will choose the Due Process Hearing Officer. The Due Process Hearing Officer is typically an attorney who acts like a judge to hear both parties on a matter and render a decision. A hearing officer is supposed to be "Fair and Impartial". A quick Google search of the hearing officer chosen by the District immediately raised red flags because the hearing officer chosen by the District was Mr. John Brink who was a former law associate of District attorney Teri Goldman in two different law firms. The choice of a hearing officer can easily sway the outcome of a hearing. I know that hearing officers are supposed to be "Fair and Impartial". But, as proof of my concern, I found several cases where Mr. Brink and Ms. Goldman while working for the same law firms co-represented school districts on cases. What was more troubling was the fact that Mr. Brink and Ms. Goldman were listed together as presenters at the 2007 Missouri Speech Language Hearing Association (MSHA) convention speaking about the rules pertaining to Due Process with one of their topics listed as "Testifying in Due Process Hearings". This is why we filed a complaint regarding our concerns over the school district's choice of the Due Process Hearing Officer with ED OCR.

District attorney Teri Goldman responded to ED OCR investigating our concerns. In her response to ED OCR she stated, "Since 2002, Ms. Goldman occasionally sees Mr. Brink at professional conferences (perhaps 1-2 times per year) and does converse with him at such conferences. Beyond that, she has no personal relationship with him. Since 2002, Ms. Goldman and Mr. Brink have not served as co-presenters contrary to the Simpson's representation. Neither Ms. Goldman nor the District know the basis for the Simpson's assertion in that regard." That's why I submitted the convention schedule brochure PDF document from the 2007 MSHA conference to ED OCR documenting our concern along with a photo of Mr. Brink and Ms. Goldman seated together at the conference luncheon. These documents were found on the MSHA website along with the URL links. Shortly after ED OCR reviewed our complaint and responses from the District, Ms. Goldman and Mr. Brink, the documents were removed from the MSHA website where they had been posted for nearly 3 years. I found it odd that the documents disappeared so quickly after ED OCR investigated our concerns.

So, is Ms. Goldman's statement true about not serving as co-presenters with Mr. Brink? I kept a copy of the MSHA Convention brochure and photo from the luncheon just in case. The session description can be found on page 24 of the program schedule from the following link:

Below is District attorney Teri Goldman's response to ED OCR regarding our concerns of the Due Process Hearing Officer selection. Mr. Dan Baker stated that he was originally concerned after I brought it to the attention of the District and ED OCR that Mr. Brink and Ms. Goldman were former law associates. However, after speaking with District attorney Teri Goldman and she assured Mr. Baker that Mr. Brink would be fair and impartial, Mr. Baker was no longer concerned about the choice of the hearing officer. Apparently, Mr. Baker didn't know that Ms. Goldman and Mr. Brink were former law associates during a January 2009 Due Process Hearing that Mr. Baker was involved in with another family at Fox that was decided in favor of the school district.

August 18, 2011 - Fox C-6 and MO DESE Found
Non-Compliant with Section 504, ADA and ADAAA

This ruling was handed down from the USDA after reviewing the Due Process Hearing that was put on by the District and heard by the District attorney's former law associate who was hired by the District as a Due Process Hearing Officer. The same attorney was hired by the District in January 2009 as a Due Process Hearing Officer for another case in the District and the hearing officer ruled in favor of the District on that case too. I wonder how truly "Fair and Impartial" former law associates are in hearing cases? You'll have to read the USDA's take on the Due Process Hearing Officer's decision.
August 18, 2011 USDA OCR Final Agency Decision Finding Fox C-6 and MO DESE Non-Compliant

March 13, 2012 - Fox C-6 Still Non-Compliant per ED OCR
ED OCR points out a lot of flaws in our District's student handbooks and school board policies that need to be updated. They also point out the fact that there are at least 7 different people identified in the District documentation as the District's 504 Coordinator on page 12. One of the persons listed hasn't worked for the District since 2008. I have to say that ED OCR is fairly thorough in their reading over of  our District's Policies, Procedures and Student Handbooks.
March 13, 2012 ED OCR Monitoring Letter Update Sent to Fox C-6 Documenting Obligations Still Not Satisfied per the May 2009 Resolution Agreement

August 3, 2012 - Fox C-6 Still Non-Compliant per ED OCR
More of the same but with a little more detail of what needs to be corrected starting on page 10 of the document.
August 3, 2012 ED OCR Monitoring Letter Update Sent to Fox C-6 Documenting Obligations Still Not Satisfied per the May 2009 Resolution Agreement

April 25, 2013 - Fox C-6 Still Non-Compliant per ED OCR
The following April 25, 2013 ED OCR Monitoring Letter informed the Fox C-6 School District that it still has not met its obligations from the May 1, 2009 Resolution Agreement signed by Dan Baker. There have been 4 monitoring letters sent to the district since May 2009. Deadlines for were given and never met. Therefore Fox C-6 IS NOT in compliance as Superintendent Critchlow stated at the June 2013 board meeting. It seems that our district has a serious problem with being able to update its school board policies and regulations. It has now been 3 years since our district informed ED OCR that it would have completed the updates of board policies and regulations.

ED OCR is still waiting for board policy updates and changes to its manuals. ED OCR has been allowing the District to "voluntarily comply" for more than 4 years. The District has still not complied. Why not? Perhaps it is time for our school board to ask Superintendent Critchlow why the District under her leadership hasn't been able to meet the obligations of their May 1, 2009 Resolution Agreement with ED OCR.

It has also been nearly 3 years since District attorney Teri Goldman informed ED OCR that they should be completing the board policies and procedures updates by July 31, 2010. Taxpayer dollars are being spent by our District and ED OCR for failing to comply with the May 1, 2009 Resolution Agreement. Perhaps it's time for our school board to start looking for new leadership in our school district.