State Disabilities Advocacy Office Faults Hartford Schools for Leaving Behind Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities; Calls for Federal Civil Rights Investigation into Discrimination, and State Department of Education Investigation into Violations of Special Education Laws.
The Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (OPA) today released its report of an investigation it conducted into complaints about the treatment of Hartford students identified with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. The investigation found that: “In the midst of much publicized efforts to improve general student achievement, the Hartford Public School system is marginalizing, illegally segregating, failing to educate, and impermissibly discriminating against students with serious emotional and behavioral disabilities.”
Over a two year period, OPA investigators conducted site visits, reviewed student records and administrative documents, and interviewed students, parents, legal advocates and administrators. Detailing the experiences of five students, the resulting report also examines the effects of the Hartford Public Schools’ major reform efforts – efforts that have largely left students with mental health diagnoses behind. In fact, OPA found that: “[S]ome of the proudest strategies of Hartford’s reform – School Choice and Student Based Budgeting – operate so as to discriminate against students with mental health disabilities and to deny them the Free Appropriate Public Education that is their fundamental right... For students with ED [Emotional and Behavioral Disorders], the net effect of Hartford’s general education reform strategies has been to further institutionalize the system’s historical tendency to reject and abandon them.”
“Everyone wants Hartford to succeed in its quest for better schools,” said James D. McGaughey, OPA’s Executive Director. “But, you cannot build genuine school reform on a platform that essentially abandons certain students. By denying these students their rights under special education law, the system is also denying them an opportunity for a positive future. Ultimately, we will all pay a price for that failure.”
The report recommends steps that the Hartford Public Schools could take to address the identified problems. In addition, because the investigation found significant evidence that Hartford’s practices violate both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the non-discrimination provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, OPA has requested further investigations from the State Department of Education (SDE) and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil
OPA is an independent state agency that operates pursuant to state and federal law to safeguard the civil rights of persons with disabilities. It is part of a nationwide network of protection and advocacy agencies authorized by federal law to conduct investigations, into abuse and neglect and pursue legal and administrative remedies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.