SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – After months of virtual learning, Chatham County parents say their students with disabilities aren’t getting the services they need to succeed.
The Sullivan Law Firm in Savannah has filed a formal complaint against the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) on behalf of all students with disabilities who are enrolled in the district and are eligible for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The complaint alleges SCCPSS violated the educational and civil rights of these students since school started this year. The complaint states that 4,000 disabled students aren’t getting the services they require and that violates federal law under IDEA.
Julia Sullivan is the attorney leading the way to make sure students with disabilities aren’t forgotten.
“At the end of the day regardless of the fact that we are in a pandemic the legal obligations that the district to follow the IDEA still are in place,” Sullivan said.
The IDEA is a federal law enacted to assure that all children with disabilities have a free public education that emphasizes special education. Sullivan says SCCPSS must comply with the IDEA as a condition of receiving federal funding. There is no COVID-19 emergency waiver in the IDEA.
The complaint asks that the Georgia Department of Education (GDE) address allegations that the district improperly put all students with Individual Education Programs (IEP) into virtual learning and that they denied access to in-person services for students with IEPs.
According to Sullivan, SCCPSS also did not inform parents of these decisions with a “prior written notice” that is required by the IDEA.
“They have failed to provide a written explanation for their decision that’s required by the IDEA anytime they make these kinds of changes with respect to the kids IEP,” Sullivan said.
The complaint is also asking that the GDE renew training for SCCPSS administrators and staff on what predetermination is. Predetermination is illegal under the IDEA, according to The Sullivan Law Firm.
The firm has asked for a random audit of IEPs that have been developed within the district that is being implemented to make sure SCCPSS is complying with the law. They would also like a letter to go out to every parent who’s student has been impacted by this explaining the complaint and what the GDE did about the problem.
SCCPSS received the complaint Friday and sent News 3 the below statement:
The District is in receipt of the complaint and is reviewing the allegations closely. While the Savannah-Chatham County Public School Systems denies the claim that there is a ‘systemic’ failure, this complaint will be taken seriously and the District will fully cooperate with the State Department of Education. The school system has provided educational services in a manner consistent with government directives and official health guidelines during this pandemic. As may be expected, there are differing views on how best to provide services to all students.
The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System is committed to serving our students with special needs in compliance with applicable legal requirements.Savannah-Chatham County Public School System
News 3 spoke with Ashley Reed who is the parent of a second-grader who has autism. She says she’s thankful this complaint was filed because she believes students with disabilities need to be back in school full-time.
“He requires special professional people to educate him. I’m his mom and I know him best but I’m not educated the way his teachers are,” Reed told News 3.
Reed said she doesn’t agree that other students get to go to school two days a week while those with disabilities go one day a week.
“While they’re collecting full funding for every student every day these kids aren’t getting that put into them,” Reed said.
Sullivan tells News 3 she expects the GDE to view this complaint sometime this week. They have up to 60 days to review the allegations made and determine if the school district is failing to follow the law.
News 3 will have updates.