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Plan settles civil rights complaint alleging lost instruction time

TIMES PHOTO: ERIC APALATEGUI - The Beaverton School District has voluntarily agreed to provide another 15 hours of special education services to qualifying students with disabilities who may have lost class time when put on school buses ahead of their peers in general education classrooms.The Beaverton School District has offered another 15 hours of instruction this summer to more than 1,000 students in special education classrooms to settle a federal complaint.

The complaint, which the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights agreed to investigate last summer, argued that students with disabilities were being cheated out of education time because many were routinely taken out of special education classes and placed on buses before the end of the school day.

"I think we got a win," said Louis Feldman, a Cedar Hills parent who helped file the complaint on behalf of his younger son, who has autism, and for the benefit of hundreds of students district-wide. "It's a small victory as part of the much bigger battle."

Diane Wiscarson, an attorney who worked pro bono on the complaint with the Feldmans, called the voluntary resolution agreement a good outcome to a problem she has worked years to correct.

"This is a problem all over the U.S.," she said. "It's a problem in a lot of districts."

District spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler said the early releases already were halted last fall as the district responded to the complaint.

“It’s the right thing,” she said of the agreement. “We want to make sure that we’re offering the same programs to all students.”

The agreement with the OCR also requires the district to provide staff training and other steps to make sure early releases don't return.

District officials late last week mailed letters notifying parents whose children are eligible for the one-time summer program, which will include five three-hour days of classroom instruction. Qualifying students used district transportation services during the 2014-15 or 2015-16 school years and potentially lost class time due to boarding buses too early.

Last school year, Feldman, Wiscarson and others documented early releases at two dozen schools across Beaverton and submitted the evidence with their complaint after they said the district failed to solve the problem after several years of expressing their concerns.

Feldman said his younger son, the one who still needs transportation services, is now getting a full day of instruction.

"For mine, everything is working," he said Monday.

Wiscarson, whose practice focuses on special education law, said parents of children who can't tolerate being released from class at the same time as the rest of the student body can build an early release into an individualized educational plan (IEP) without denying other students instructional time.

In Beaverton, the agreement applies to about 1,050 students in self-contained special education classes, Wheeler said. She couldn’t guess how many parents would choose to send their children to the optional summer program.

Parents of qualifying students have until April 15 to opt for the additional services, according to the letter.

The summer program will focus on literacy, mathematics and enrichment activities appropriate to the students' needs, Wheeler said.

Some students also separately qualify for an extended school year program during the summertime, based on their academic needs, and the compensatory class days will fit around that annual program.

The special programs will be held in stages between late June and late July at Hiteon Elementary School, Wheeler said.

The district will staff the classrooms and provide student transportation for the program.

Wheeler said the additional summer class instruction will cost about $350,000 in extra pay for 21 of its teachers and 62 additional staff members, including instructional assistants and office and custodial support.

She said additional transportation will add to the total costs, but that amount won't be known until after the April 15 and they can determine how many routes will be needed.

Feldman said his sons, both of whom are on the autism spectrum, missed class time to go to the bus early while general education students at the same school received a full day of instruction.

He now hopes both of his boys can attend the compensatory programs this summer, if like many parents they can fit it into their summer plans.

By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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