The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Folsom Cordova special education violations trigger review

Published: Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013 - 7:20 am

The Folsom Cordova Unified School District has violated special education rules 63 times in the past four years, according to state records.

The violations ranged from placing a child in a restraint chair without informing the child's parents to failing to provide families with progress reports in a timely fashion.

According to state files obtained by The Bee covering the last four school years, families filed 25 separate complaints alleging that Folsom Cordova violated state laws or federal regulations a combined 92 times.

Investigators subsequently concluded the district had failed to comply with special education rules 63 times, or in nearly two-thirds of the allegations.

The California Department of Education launched a formal review of the district after complaints spiked in 2010-11, when parents alleged the district committed 50 violations.

District officials say they have since addressed and resolved the problems identified that year.

In one complaint from 2010-11, parents said they were not notified when their special needs student was placed in a restraint chair, which caused bruises to the child's upper thighs. Investigators found that the parents were not notified of the "emergency behavior intervention."

In another allegation involving the same child, parents said the district failed to inform them why their child came home with a broken tooth, bruised and purple tongue and cut lip at the end of the school day.

The district told investigators that the principal had filed an accident report and contacted the parents to explain that another child was aggressive in the classroom, the report said.

But less than two weeks later, district officials told the investigator they had no evidence that a report was filed about the injuries.

In another case, the district failed to provide door-to-door transportation to a disabled student who lived in an apartment building. An email from the director of transportation said district policy prohibited buses from entering apartment complexes.

The state's investigators disagreed, saying "there is no law … that prevents a school bus from entering an apartment complex."

The district also failed to complete some corrective actions within the one-year period required by federal regulations, Special Education Consultant Shirley Waegell told parents at a meeting in March. Waegell said that all the corrective actions had since been completed.

Folsom Cordova Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt said Friday in a text message relayed by her assistant that "unfortunately people go to the state before giving us a chance to resolve the issues."

She added that the district brought in state education consultants to help resolve the problems in July 2011.

The Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team in October 2011 produced a 70-page report outlining its plans to help the district's special education program get back on track.

There has been improvement for the district, which has 19,000 students and 2,100 enrolled in special education programs.

Through April of this school year, state reports show, families filed two complaints with the Department of Education. Investigators concluded that the district followed proper procedures in three out of the five allegations within the complaints.

The district is between special education directors. Salli Price Welsh, who joined Folsom Cordova in August 2011 as it prepared to tackle its problems, stepped down in April, citing family reasons. Her replacement, Betty Jo Wessinger, is slated to start Monday.

Each year, seven to 10 districts are reviewed out of 258 districts in the 19-county Northern California area that includes the Sacramento region, according to Chris Drouin, associate director of the Department of Education's special education division.

"We look at all of the compliance indicators every year to see how districts are doing," Drouin said. "We look to see who has the highest percentage of unmet indicators. Folsom was one of those."

The state has not yet publicly issued the results of its Folsom Cordova review.

Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee. Read her Report Card blog at http://blogs.sacbee.com/report-card/.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Loretta Kalb



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