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District Acknowledges Inequities in Special Education, Orders Changes : Education: Under federal pressure, officials agree to more fully integrate handicapped students.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal investigators have reported that the Montebello Unified School District violated the rights of handicapped students by segregating them and providing them with less instruction than other students.

In an agreement this month with the Office for Civil Rights, Montebello officials acknowledged that their program did not comply with federal law and said all the problems would be corrected.

Some of the segregation problems were at Rosewood Park Elementary in Commerce. Current law requires that mentally and or physically handicapped students be taught at the same site as other children of the same age. Rosewood Elementary had handicapped students as old as 14 when the investigation began. In September, those students were transferred to Montebello Intermediate School.

The investigation also revealed that handicapped students at various schools had different lunch and recess times. Their school day was also shorter than that of students in the regular program.

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District officials said they did not have enough buses to bring handicapped children to school at the same time as other children, therefore those students had different schedules, Acting Assistant Supt. Faustino Ledesma said.

The Office for Civil Rights decided that the practice was discriminatory. The district has agreed to stagger the starting times of its schools to use its buses more efficiently and get handicapped students and other students on the same schedule.

Investigators also said that the district did not have an effective system for finding substitute teachers for handicapped students.

In addition, programs for handicapped students often did not begin until one to three weeks after other students had started school. Federal law requires all students to have a school year of equal length.

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The Office for Civil Rights began its investigation after receiving a complaint filed by Jeanne Corbett, a special-education parent advocate.

If the district had not satisfied the agency, the government could have stripped the school system of its federal funds, said John Palomino, who directs the agency’s San Francisco office.

Supt. Darline Robles said she thought the settlement with the federal investigators was fair. She also noted that implementing the changes will strain district resources. The district spends about $8 million of its $101.5-million budget to provide special-education services. The costs include about $800,000 for transporting 200 disabled students to and from school.


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