Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy Birthday!! Missouri DESE's Section 504 Guidance Turns 22 This Month!

It was 22 years ago this month that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MO DESE) published their Section 504 Guidance for Missouri School Districts.

As of January 2015, MO DESE's guidance hasn't been updated since January 1993. That's pretty amazing!!

Section 504 is a civil rights statute which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Section 504 is enforced (supposedly) by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

I say "supposedly" because the Kansas City Office for Civil Rights has allowed the Fox C-6 School District to remain non-compliant with the Resolution Agreement that assistant superintendent Dan Baker signed on May 1, 2009 for nearly 6 years. OCR sent 4 monitoring letters to the district between December 2009 and May 2013 detailing what the district needed to do in order to become compliant with the May 1, 2009 Resolution Agreement.

Allowing a school district to remain non-compliant for nearly 6 years DOES NOT give the appearance of enforcement. In 2010, I asked attorneys at OCR handling our complaint if they thought the district would fulfill the Resolution Agreement before my child graduated. The attorney laughed when he told me that OCR has been monitoring some Resolution Agreements for nearly 10 years. It seems that OCR's interpretation of enforcement is quite different than what most people would consider enforcement of the law.

Both the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) each have an Office for Civil Rights.

Any school district that accepts federal funds is required to comply with Section 504 and the ADA AA or they risk losing their federal funds.

School districts are not funded for Section 504 like they are for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) so there is no incentive for school districts to implement Section 504 other than the risk of losing their federal funds. Therfore, it's pretty easy to see why it's been so difficult for parents in the state of Missouri to obtain 504 Plans for their children that are eligible.

Each year Missouri DESE is required to sign an assurance agreement with the USDA's Food Nutrition Services (FNS) division stating that they will comply with Section 504 law and USDA's Regulations and Guidelines. 

School districts in Missouri sign an assurance agreement each year with Missouri DESE stating they will comply with Section 504 and the USDA's Regulations and Guidelines and MO DESE is responsible for ensuring that the school districts in Missouri properly follow the law.

Missouri DESE not being able to update their guidance in 22 years reminds me of the same problem that's gone on at Fox C-6 for the last decade. Fox hasn't able to update their board Policies and Regulations for nearly a decade other than the ones required by state statute.

Even though Fox was required by law to update their policies, it didn't always get done properly. In 2011, I pointed out to Fox's Board of Education that the district's new Allergy Prevention and Response Policy that was adopted in June 2011 didn't meet state law. Of course, Fox's former superintendent Dianne Brown-Critchlow and assistant superintendent Dan Baker argued with me that it did meet state law and that the district's attorneys approved the policy and so did the board.

Eventually Dan Baker resubmitted the Allergy Prevention and Response policy to Fox's Board of Education (BOE) in November 2011 and it was re-adopted at the December 2011 board meeting.

The original policy submitted by Dan Baker to Fox's BOE stated that the District "will develop a policy" and was only 8 sentences long. The model policy from the state was 4 pages long.

I sent a copy of Mehlville's policy (where Dianne Brown's brother was an administrator) to the board as an example of what the policy was supposed to include. This is just another example of how getting things done at Fox has been a burden for the last decade.

Back to Missouri DESE's Section 504 Guidance, if you search Missouri DESE's website for "Section 504", the first document listed in the search results is the one linked to below.

The second document is MO DESE's Section 504 Coordinator Responsibilities Guide which is the document linked to below:

Nowhere is it stated in MO DESE's Section 504 Guidance that Section 504 prohibits retaliation for filing an OCR complaint or for advocating for a right protected by the law, and harassment of students or others because of a disability as it does in South Dakota's Section 504 Guidance that was written in 2010.

I highly recommend downloading South Dakota's Department of Education's Section 504 Guidance document. Compare it to the document that Missouri DESE has on their website. It's a night and day difference!

In 2009, Missouri DESE talked about updating the document when my wife discussed it with Missouri DESE's former Compliance Officer. The document on MO DESE's website is the same one that my wife downloaded in 2008. Obviously it never got updated.

Our district didn't need Missouri DESE's Section 504 Guidance because they were trained on Section 504 by Fox's former law firm and there was usually training every year at the Annual School Law Seminars sponsored by some of Missouri's law firms that specialize in education related law.

If you are a parent in Missouri looking for information on Section 504, don't bother looking at Missouri DESE's guidance. Go download the Section 504 guidance from South Dakota. It puts Missouri's guidance to shame. Other states have similar documents that are up to date like South Dakota's so you may find others that are even better.

Perhaps someone at MO DESE will read this article and start working on updating the state's guidance on Section 504 considering that it was written 16 years before the 2009 ADA Amendment Act!