SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The Georgia Department of Education has ruled that the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System cannot use the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to not provide required services for students with special needs.
The Sullivan Law Firm filed the formal complaint in October 2020 claiming the school system violated the rights of the approximately 4,000 disabled students in the district.
The state department of education ruled that the school district did not consider student’s Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) when making the decision to move to an all virtual model. The ruling states that the school system did not give written prior notice to the changes and did not consider all placement options.
According to the ruling, “since the district’s IEP Teams were not permitted to consider all components of an educational placement determination when the district provided full distance/remote instruction, including the location of the student’s educational services, in violation of IDEA’s Placement regulation, the district shall provide written notification to all parents of students with disabilities under IDEA in the district to inform them that the district was found to be out of compliance with federal and state special education rules and regulations and to offer the parents the opportunity to request an IEP Team meeting to review and revise their student’s IEP and/or DLP, as appropriate, in accordance with 34 C.F.R. § 300.324.”
The district must provide that written notice to the parents of students with disabilities no later than Friday, Feb. 26.
The state department of education states it will host training for the district regarding issues discussed in the resolution letter.
According to the resolution letter, all findings are final. There is no appeal or reconsideration process. The GaDOE says “failure of the Savannah-Chatham County School District to complete the required actions may result in the withholding of federal and/or state funds for special education.”
SCCPSS provided a statement on the state’s complaint findings:
“Like many Georgia school districts, the COVID-19 pandemic has been very challenging for students and staff alike. Throughout the pandemic, the Savannah Chatham Public School System has continued to provide services consistent with the evolving health guidelines and emergency orders of the government bodies responsible for public health and has relied on State and Federal guidance concerning the provision of special education services to meet the needs of our students safely.
On February 12, 2021, the Georgia Department of Education issued a Formal Complaint Resolution in response to a systemic complaint concerning special education services made against the District that requires certain actions. While the District strongly disagrees with the stated findings, we respect the administrative role of the Department of Education and will comply in a prompt manner to address the extensive demands and directives included in the Department’s resolution.
The System is particularly aware of the impact that COVID-19 health and safety measures can have on special education student populations and appreciates the challenges that virtual learning can present. We are thankful to the parents and community members that work with our staff members to take on those continuing challenges in a meaningful and productive manner.”