Thursday, July 3, 2014

Some Investigative Reporting Would Reveal Systemic Problems

You have to wonder why it would take a school district more than 5 years to comply with a Resolution Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (ED OCR).

You may also wonder why it would take more than two years before a school district would start working towards becoming compliant with the USDA's Office for Civil Rights (USDA OCR) federal regulations and guidelines after being found non-compliant in August 2011.

So, why does it take so long for a school district to meet the obligations that school district administrators agreed to do when they signed their name on a Resolution Agreement that was dated May 1, 2009?

Fox C-6 isn't the only school district in the country that's signed a Resolution Agreement that is still being "monitored" by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (ED OCR). School districts have been signing Resolution Agreements with ED OCR for years with the understanding that once the district agrees to and signs a Resolution Agreement, the case that was being investigated by ED OCR goes into a "monitoring" status.

What does "monitoring" mean?

This typically means that ED OCR will "monitor" the district's progress on meeting the obligations that the school district and ED OCR mutually agreed that the school district would do in the Resolution Agreement by occasionally sending out monitoring letters to the school district informing them of their progress in meeting those obligations. The Resolution Agreement typically spells out in detail what the district agrees to do in order to become compliant with Federal laws and regulations. A Resolution Agreement also specifies dates that the district agrees to complete the items spelled out in the agreement. The school district and ED OCR mutually agree upon the dates before the district signs the agreement as well.

Most cases investigated by ED OCR are closed in less than 180 days. So, you have to wonder why Fox C-6 is still being "monitored" for a Resolution Agreement that district administrators signed on May 1, 2009.

So, why hasn't Fox fully complied with a Resolution Agreement that was signed more than 5 years ago?

Well, for starters, when a school district doesn't meet the deadlines that they agreed to in a Resolution Agreement, ED OCR simply extends the deadline and continues to "monitor" the school district. ED OCR checks in with the school district when they don't meet the new deadline and simply sends the district an updating monitoring letter with a new deadline telling them to meet the new deadline. It may be a year before ED OCR checks in on the district. If the district hasn't met their agreed upon obligations, ED OCR sets a new deadline again and the cycle continues.

You're probably wondering, how long is this allowed to continue before the federal agency enforces an agreement?

That's a really good question. An ED OCR attorney told me that they have cases that have been in "monitoring" status for more than 10 years. So it's no wonder why districts can get by with doing little to nothing in meeting their obligations in a Resolution Agreement. It would seem that if ED OCR actually enforced their Resolution Agreements by providing consequences for a school district for not meeting their deadlines that ED OCR wouldn't have a case load that may take decades or more to close out.

It seems pretty simple. But, there's a lot of red tape that the federal agencies have to go through in order to use their only true method of enforcement that they have and that is the removal of a school district's federal funding. In order to remove a school district's federal funding, it ultimately has to be approved by Congress. That's probably why school district administrators don't seem too concerned when they receive letters informing them that their school district has been found Non-Compliant by a federal agency. They simply inform their school board that they received a really long letter from a federal agency and that the attorney found several mistakes in the letter. Don't worry, the attorneys will take care of it.

Perhaps the Missouri School Board Association's training that all new school board members are required to attend doesn't go into much depth about the federal laws that school district administrators are supposed to follow. That's just my opinion based upon conversations that I've had with several school board members over the last 6 years. So, it's no wonder when a school board isn't too concerned with the fact that the Fox C-6 School District was found Non-Compliant by USDA OCR in August 2011. It also hasn't been that much of a concern that the district hasn't been able to meet the requirements of an ED OCR Resolution Agreement that was signed by district administrators in May 2009. And, it probably hasn't been much of a concern that the Fox C-6 School District has been under a District Wide Compliance Review by ED OCR since March 2010.

It's certainly easy for school district administrators to get by for years without having to meet the obligations that a district agrees to do with federal agencies. It's also very easy for them to ignore letters of non-compliance.

Should not meeting these obligations or being found non-compliant by federal agencies be a concern for our community or our school board?

Does not meeting these obligations violate school board policy?

How long should federal agencies extend deadlines in Resolution Agreements before they enforce them?

There's been a huge paper trail generated by the federal agencies as they have been investigating and "monitoring" the Resolution Agreement and non-compliance findings in our school district over the past 5+ years. One would think that by having some of the highest paid administrators in the state of Missouri that they would have been able to manage to come in compliance and fulfill the obligations of the Resolution Agreement they signed by now.

I covered this issue before in a July 2013 article titled:

Perhaps now is a good time for someone to begin looking into why the Fox C-6 School District still has an open District Wide Compliance Review from 2010 and why the district is still being "monitored" by ED OCR for a Resolution Agreement that was signed by district administrators back in May 2009. 

A google search for Resolution Agreements will reveal many more cases across the country. You can also find ED OCR's Case Processing Manual and read about out how they are supposed to handle their investigations and case monitoring.