The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating the Bibb County school system for potential violations of special education students’ rights, as well as an allegation that black students were punished more often and more harshly in its alternative school program.
The complaint was filed by Alisha Allen-Carter, the former director of that program.
The school district, through spokeswoman Stephanie Hartley, declined to comment on the allegations and referred questions to the district’s attorney in the matter, Jeffery Monroe. Monroe, a partner at Jones, Cork & Miller, would not provide specifics on the matter, saying it involved an ongoing investigation.
“The district has received the complaint and is taking a look at the allegations and taking a look at the data that the (Office of Civil Rights) has requested,” he said.
In a letter to Allen-Carter, Arthur Manigault, an Office of Civil Rights compliance team leader, wrote that the OCR would be opening an investigation, but the letter cautioned that the OCR would be a “neutral fact-finder” during its probe.
The letter outlined five points that it would investigate, including whether the district:
Failed to evaluate students to determine if they needed special education accommodations before placing them in an alternative school;
Failed to provide aids and service to students with disabilities;
Discriminates against black students on the basis of race in administering discipline;
Complied with laws about proper procedural safeguards for parents seeking evaluations for their children;
Failed to conduct “manifestation determination reviews” when placing students with disabilities in alternative schools.
Monroe said the OCR had not placed a deadline for the information it had requested, but was working with the district because the request came during the summer. He did say the district was conducting its own investigation as well.
“They’ve been working with us so that we can perform our own investigation and get the information over to them,” Monroe said.
Allen-Carter said she filed the complaint because during her two years at the helm of the alternative school program, she did not have adequate staffing or the resources to provide the needed care for special needs students that were placed in alternative schools. She said many of the students came with outdated “individual education plans,” which are required for special needs students.
Many of the students were simply put in the alternative school as a way to unburden the schools they came from, she contended.
“They were just cast away to us and that was it,” Allen-Carter said.
“I am hoping for more oversight and more monitoring from the state for the IEPs” of special needs students at the alternative schools, she said.
Allen-Carter said she notified district administrators of the inadequacies, but she never received the support she was seeking.
Former school Superintendent Romain Dallemand hired her for the job, with autonomy to advocate for the students, but she said support was still lacking. When Interim Superintendent Steve Smith took over, she said, she began to have further problems and was investigated by the district’s human resources department.
Though she said she was never presented with the results of that investigation. Allen-Carter’s contract was not renewed for the 2014-2015 school year. Allen-Carter said she is seeking damages for losing her job, part of her claim of wrongful termination and a “hostile work environment.”
Monroe said he would not comment on Allen-Carter’s case, since that involves an ongoing investigation as well.
To contact writer Mark Vanderhoek, call 744-4225.