The time to complete the state audit is pretty impressive considering how long the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in Kansas City has been investigating the school district for a District Wide Compliance Review.
5+ Years and Still Under Investigation
On July 28, 2015 I received a response from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (ED OCR) to my June 2, 2015 Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the status of Fox C-6's March 2010 District Wide Compliance Review.
The response came from Bill Dittmeier, the Director of the the Kansas City ED OCR office.
Bill Dittmeier's response stated that Fox's District Wide Compliance Review is still "an open investigation".
It's difficult to understand how Fox can still be under "an open investigation" after five and a half years considering that the Memphis City School District in Tennessee underwent the exact same compliance review investigation in March 2010 which resulted in the Memphis City School District signing a Resolution Agreement in January 2012.
ED OCR's Growing List of Open Compliance Reviews
It appears that the Kansas City ED OCR office has a documented pattern of compliance reviews and complaints that have remained open for years. An August 22, 2012 FOIA request to ED OCR was responded to on May 3, 2013 which listed 3 open compliance reviews in the Kansas City ED OCR office. Two of the open compliance reviews had been open investigations from 2009. They were for the Bayless School District and the Cape Girardeau School District. The third compliance review was the Fox C-6 compliance review which was opened in March 2010.
A Lingering Problem
Two years ago at the June 2013 Fox C-6 school board meeting, I asked Fox's school board about the status of Fox's District Wide Compliance Review investigation and the status of the district's Resolution Agreement with ED OCR that Dan Baker signed in May 2009 during Public Comments.
I wrote about these open in issues with ED OCR in a July 6, 2013 article. That article also listed the numerous "monitoring letters" sent to the district over the years following up on the district's May 2009 Resolution Agreement. Charges from Fox's former law firm document fees related to responding to those ongoing "monitoring letters".
Using the link below, you can read several years of FOIA request responses from the Kansas City ED OCR office regarding Fox's open district wide compliance review. The July 28, 2015 FOIA response was the first response from Bill Dittmeier who succeeded Angela Bennett as the Director of the Kansas City ED OCR office in 2014.
Below is an excerpt from Bill Dittmeier's FOIA response:
The compliance review concerning the Fox C-6 School District is an open investigation. OCR has determined that the release of the information you have requested at this time could reasonably be expected to interfere with our enforcement activities. In addition, the information you have requested includes personally identifiable information that, if released, could be unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Therefore, OCR is denying your request.
You may be wondering why Fox would still be under investigation after five and a half years.
Is this something that our community should be concerned about?
From a financial point of view, it is a concern because the district has spent tens of thousands of dollars over the past 6+ years in legal fees related to the compliance review and the still open May 2009 Resolution Agreement as well as other OCR complaints from others in the district.
District attorneys responded to monitoring letters, worked on updating district policies to get the district in compliance with federal law and prepared Dan Baker, school staff and the Fox C-6 school board for interviews in the fall of 2010. District attorneys also charged Fox C-6 taxpayers to respond to my Public Comments at board meetings as well as emails sent to the school board and administrators. There were also charges in the legal bills for reading this blog.
The legal bills are very interesting to read. The disappointing thing about the legal bills was that the former law firm didn't break out their billable time on Fox's bills like they did for the Wentzville school district. This makes it much more difficult to analyze how much was actually spent on various issues since many line items are grouped into lump sum billings.
I requested copies of the Fox C-6 legal bills via Sunshine Law in August 2014. I had made numerous requests before dating back to 2009 for the legal bills but had always been given excuses as to why the district couldn't or wouldn't make them available. I should also note that I didn't receive copies of the legal bills until April 2015 after I contacted the Attorney General's Office for help in obtaining them.
Fox's Compliance Review Noted in Report to the President
In 2012, Fox's 2010 compliance review was referenced in ED OCR's FY 2009-2012 Report to the President and Secretary of Education that was issued in 2012 by former Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Russlynn H. Ali. Fox C-6's compliance review is listed on the map on page 5 as FAPE 2010 as a Section 504 compliance review. I'm surprised that Russlyn Ali included Fox's Compliance Review in the report since the investigation hasn't been completed yet.
It's interesting to read ED OCR's statements in the 2009-2012 Report to the President about how OCR must vigorously enforce the nations's civil right's laws.
I'm not sure how many people consider an investigation lasting more than 5 years, "vigorously enforcing the nation's civil rights laws".
Randolph Wills the Director of Enforcement over the Kansas City ED OCR office wrote a letter to Fox C-6's former legal counsel on April 7, 2010. He informed Fox that compliance reviews are designed to address systemic issues and to ensure that violations are readily identified and promptly eliminated:
As OCR explained in its notification letter to the District, compliance reviews are designed to address systemic issues and to ensure that violations are readily identified and promptly eliminated. The instant compliance review is consistent with the stated purpose and goals of OCR compliance review activities. Accordingly, I have determined that the compliance review will proceed.
What's even more interesting is the fact that the other school district, Memphis City School District in Tennessee, that was investigated for the same issue was investigated and agreed to sign a Resolution Agreement with ED OCR in January 2012. ED OCR posted a Press Release in April 2012 about the Memphis City School District's Resolution Agreement along with the Resolution Agreement itself.
It's amazing how quickly the Atlanta ED OCR office was able to conduct and resolve the issues in the Memphis City School District considering the fact that the Memphis City SD had 110,361 students and 191 schools in their district when the investigation was opened compared to Fox having roughly 11,000 students and only 18 schools. It causes one to question the abilities and/or ethics of some of the Regional ED OCR Offices.
Concerns Over Which OCR Office Handles InvestigationsIn 2010, the Kansas City ED OCR office was assigned to conduct Fox's District Wide Compliance Review. I voiced my concerns to the Washington, D.C. ED OCR office back then about assigning the compliance review to the Kansas City ED OCR office. My concerns were based upon the fact that there didn't appear to be much enforcement effort out of the Kansas City ED OCR office based upon my conversations with many other advocates and individuals who had been dealing with the KC ED OCR office for years.
According to Fox's legal bills Fox's former law firm prepared the district and board prior to the interviews and then represented them during the ED OCR interviews in 2010.
So how long will it take for ED OCR to complete their March 2010 investigation?
According to Fox's legal bills, it appears that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office for Civil Rights (USDA OCR) was able to conduct and complete a compliance review of the district sometime in 2012 or 2013 that I was unaware of. There were charges in the legal bills to review the findings.