State cites more violations in Iowa City School District's special ed program

Iowa Department of Education sent teams here in May to investigate

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IOWA CITY — Corrective measures that the Iowa City school district resisted making in its special education program were actually “necessary,” state investigators said Monday in a report that added even more citations.

In January, the Grant Wood Area Education Agency ordered the corrective actions after flagging more than 100 federal non-compliance issues in the program.

Many of those citations suggested parents of special ed students were not properly notified or involved in decisions about their child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) — a legal document that lays out a child’s special needs and the services the district will provide.

“Failure to invite parents in a timely manner, failure to notify parents of changes in services, failure to fully describe the support services that are to be provided and failure to adequately describe why a student needs separate services,” the repot issued Monday found, “all have potential impact on the delivery of a free appropriate public education.”

The AEA had required Iowa City staff to participate in more training — which it agreed to do — and to hold new IEP meetings with the cited students by June 1.

When the district signaled it could not comply with the meetings by June 1, that triggered the state investigation.

The district now has until Oct. 1 to hold IEP meetings to “correct” individual IEPs.

Superintendent Stephen Murley told The Gazette in May that parents have always been involved, and that the issues were only a “paperwork problem.” Holding new meetings before June 1, he said, would not be a good use of parents’ time.

He could not be reached for comment Monday after the report was released.

Investigators sent by Iowas Department of Education lauded the district for having staff committed to serving a diverse student body and for having a high participation rate for the Iowa Alternate Assessments.

But investigators were sharp in their language at other times, noting that letters from the school administration “suggest that the district does not understand that the AEA has general supervision responsibility in the area of special education.”

Moreover, the report questioned a “retaliatory” culture in the district.

“Several people interviewed expressed reluctance to express opinions or make requests that were known to be different from those of district administration,” investigators wrote.

In addition to the IEP violations cited by the Grant Wood Area Education Agency, state investigators reviewed 50 random IEPs for compliance and found 68 additional citations.

Investigators also found that while the district had completed 68 of the required IEP meetings by May 17, 44 percent of those were completed with errors — resulting in 45 new citations.

The report also noted that the district administration’s view that the non-compliance issues were “a simple ‘documentation issue’” had permeated investigators’ interviews — it was a notion repeated by staff, related to parents and even inserted into IEPs. That was concerning, the report said, as “procedural safeguards” are meant to ensure appropriate public education.

Moving forward, the state will require the Iowa City district to complete corrective measures with a state-approved adviser who will “ensure that the district understands the substantive nature of the violations.”

The education department will follow up on the corrective measures — which also include additional professional development and some procedural changes — in November and again in June 2017.

A state finance team also visited the Iowa City district in May and determined the it needs more oversight of individual school expenditures to be sure spending coded as being for special education services is appropriate.

The team found that many contracts and agreements concerning special education services were not signed by the board president, as required by law.

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