On January 17, 2023, AdvocacyDenver filed a complaint against the Denver Public Schools (DPS) with the Colorado Department of Education alleging violations of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The complaint was filed on behalf of a family whose child had not received speech/language services (SLP) required by the Individualized Education Program (IEP) beginning August 2022 to the date that the complaint was filed. In addition, AdvocacyDenver provided a list of other elementary schools where children were not receiving the IEP SLP services.
It is important to note that the parents exhausted other administrative remedies before reaching out to AdvocacyDenver, they worked with the school leader and left messages for central administration special education managers and directors in October and November. The school leader reached out to district leadership and contacted The Children’s Hospital to see if the school could contract for services. Central administration first spoke to the parents after receiving notice of the State Complaint. The district offered to pay for a list of services contingent on the family withdrawing any pending complaints. The family was concerned about their child, but they paused and thought about the larger school community and declined the offer. The parents brought testimony to the Board of Education, organized a letter writing campaign; the shero and hero when forwarding the issues and demanding resolution were the parents.
The complaint was accepted for investigation. The district was provided with a list of interrogatories and an opportunity to respond. District counsel submitted an admission to the allegations. March 18, 2023, the State Complaint officer issued a decision and concluded that the district had failed to implement the IEP for the named student; this violation resulted in a denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
Conclusion to Allegation No. 2 (systemic complaint):
District failed to implement the IEPs of over 1,000 Students from January 17, 2022 to present, by failing to provide them with the SLP minutes required by their IEPs, in violation of 34 C.F.R. § 300.323. This violation resulted in denials of FAPE.
The decision requires that the district submit a corrective action plan and provides a timeline for directives outlined in the decision. AdvocacyDenver expects that the district will follow directives provided by the State Complaints Officer and IEP teams will meet with parents/guardians to discuss compensatory services (services that will place the child in the same position they would have been in if there had not been an interruption/denial of services).
The decision provides the district an opportunity to consider the issues leading up to the complaint. We hope the decision sparks the district’s thinking about staffing issues that are not specific to the pandemic, but rather speak to the culture of the district. Over the past decade AdvocacyDenver observed the exodus of talented teachers (general and special education) and related service providers. Superintendent Boasberg closed/redesigned neighborhood schools and bid farewell to the staff. Boasberg cut millions of dollars (7, 3, 5, 17) out of the special education budget. As caseloads, workloads and culture became impossible, some providers left the field, or moved to other school districts. That same Superintendent forwarded a ruthless business culture that devalues staff and uncertainty is the norm.
The current Superintendent and leadership have an opportunity to forward a different culture. When onboarding staff they should not only welcome the new member of the team, but assign a skilled mentor to support them in learning about and navigating a complicated system. Negotiations with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) should include an accurate workload formula for each group of providers. Weight should be given to the special education teachers and providers such as speech language pathologists that work with our youngest learners. Consideration should be given to the fact that preschool and elementary school providers are implementing a multi-tiered service system/response to intervention and completing initial evaluations. We look to professional staff to teach the child compensatory skills so that that eventually that child no longer needs specialized services. Special education should not be a life sentence. Weight should be given to the fact that many elementary providers are expected to serve students at multiple schools; school assignments should be clustered, a stipend provided for working in multiple buildings and a stipend for working with our youngest learners.
Again, the current Superintendent and leadership have an opportunity to forward a different culture, where staff is valued and DPS becomes the district of choice for employment. Such a change could result in better outcomes for all DPS students.