San Bernardino County reaches resolution with federal government over disabled students

San Bernardino County has reached an agreement with the federal government after an investigation found that it violated federal law by not having a system in place to identify students with disabilities in the community and juvenile court schools it manages.

The county has agreed to develop a process for identifying students with suspected disabilities and providing them with services tailored to their needs. It will hire a project manager to create an “action plan” to fix problems, create a system for monitoring special education and review the educational plans of students with disabilities.

“We found in the investigation that in fact the county did not have an effective data tracking system to ensure that students would be identified or evaluated for disabilities,” said Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which began a compliance review of the county in 2014. “I am very pleased with the county’s willingness to do right by its students.”

San Bernardino County manages two juvenile court schools that teach young people while they’re detained or incarcerated. It also has 14 “community,” or alternative, schools, where students are sent following expulsion or truancy. In the 2013-2014 school year, 645 students attended the community schools and 238 were in court schools.

The government review also concluded that the county has been determining the services students with disabilities received with an eye to saving money, not to meeting individual needs. 

“We saw that the county routinely reduced the number of service minutes for students who had in their prior educational settings received more minutes of support,” Lhamon said. 

Investigators learned about this issue by looking at student records. They found that most students’ files contained exactly the same language to explain why their hours had been reduced — stating that 120 minutes of services “will be sufficient to insure that the student has the opportunity to succeed in the classroom.”

Once a student was identified for evaluation, the government found, there was so much paperwork that often by the time a psychologist was prepared to evaluate him, he had already cycled out of the school.

San Bernardino County School Superintendent Theodore Alejandre was not immediately available for comment, but Lhamon praised the county for being cooperative and for starting to train teachers and address its problems before the investigation ended.

You can reach Joy Resmovits on Twitter @Joy_Resmovits and by email at Joy.Resmovits@LATimes.com

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