School Resource Officers ("SROs") in Massachusetts Schools

School Resource Officers (SROs) .png

A recent decision by the U.S. Department of Education (Department), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) , warns schools of the risks of using School Resource Officers (SROs) in educational situations. In this case Lynn used an SRO as a “support person” in dealing with a student whose behavior had quickly declined. 

Brief summary of the facts in the complaint:

During the 2014-2015 school year, the Student who was at the center of the complaint was on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for an emotional disability.  The Student was known to perseverate on problems and had focus issues. The IEP indicated she needed guidance to learn how to successfully regulate her emotions and would need to meet with the school adjustment counselor.

The first half of the school year, until about January, passed without incident or concerns.  Beginning in January 2015 and more noticeably in February, the Student began to decompensate. She struggled with her academics; she had an increase in absences, tardies and dismissals; and  was suspended at least 12 times during March and April for violations such as refusal to go to class, disruptive and disrespectful behavior, swearing, and wandering the halls. By comparison, the Student had no suspensions at the start of the school year.

At a Team meeting held at the start of May, it was determined that the behaviors resulting in the Student’s suspensions were related to her disability. It was also decided that the District should conduct a FBA and a 45-day assessment, but the team could not agree on a place for the assessment. The District wanted to place the Student at their in-district school for “educationally at risk Students who have not been successful in a traditional high school setting.” The Student and her representatives requested an out-of-district assessment and placement.  Since an agreement could not be reached, the team agreed to reconvene a week later to determine an appropriate placement.

Prior to the second meeting, the Student once again had difficulty attending class.  The Student went to the vice principal’s office and the SRO was called to assist. The social worker and vice principal explained to OCR that the SRO was often called as an additional support member for the Student to talk to. The SRO’s report from the incident stated that the Student’s refusal to attend class had been an ongoing issue in the school year, indicating he had some awareness of the Student’s challenges. The SRO brought the Student down to his office, where the school social worker stopped by. According to records and interviews, the Student became loud and squirted hand sanitizer on the social worker. The social worker left to go get the principal. The principal asked the Student to clean up the hand sanitizer and when he handed her paper towels, the Student smacked his hand away. The SRO then arrested the Student and removed her from the building. Following this incident, the Student did not return to the school.

So what is the role of the SRO in the District?

To better understand the role of SROs in the District, OCR requested any policies and documentation related to SRO involvement in the school. In response, the District provided OCR with a copy of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the District, the Lynn Police Department, and the Essex County District Attorney’s Office to “coordinate their response to violent, delinquent or criminal acts by Students, including weapons reporting and alcohol and other drug use, that occur on school premises, school buses, or at school-related events.” The MOU does not address the presence of SROs in the District. The MOU did not address nor did the District have any other internal policies related to District staff engaging an SRO with routine discipline matters. The District also stated that it did not maintain any records related to SRO involvement with Students in the school.

The Student’s informal supports included check-ins with the SRO, whom District witnesses explained was “often” called upon as a “support member” for the Student. The District continued to involve the SRO to provide support services to the Student after concluding that the behavioral issues (including combative behavior) were a manifestation of the Student’s disability – and prior to conducting further evaluation or changing the Student’s services to address her needs. While the SRO was a support person for the Student, the District should realize that involving an SRO in non-criminal matters comes with an added risk to the Student because the SRO’s primary responsibility is law enforcement and not ensuring a Student with a disability is provided with a FAPE. Here, the SRO arrested the Student for behavior that was similar to the behavior that only days before was found to be a manifestation of the Student’s disability – but which remained unaddressed by the District at this time. While a Student with a disability can be referred to the police for criminal behavior, it appears everyone noted that the Student was struggling and nothing had been done yet to assess how to address her needs when she was arrested. The District also lacked any policies on the involvement of SROs with Students with disabilities, and in this case, it does not appear that the SRO was made aware of the team’s manifestation determination.

Conclusion:

“Without clear policies, procedures, and record keeping with regard to SRO involvement with Students, the District cannot ensure that its use of SROs does not discriminate against Students with disabilities by, e.g., resulting in further exclusion for disability-related behavior.”   Although this does not create clear guidelines that should be implemented in Districts across the Commonwealth, it does clearly put districts on notice of the risk of involving SROs in school matters that do not include criminal behavior.

To helpful further clarify the role of SROs, the 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Act amends Chapter 69 of the Massachusetts General Laws, and has implications in our schools. The Act requires that schools enter into written agreements with local police departments regarding the role of the School Resource Officer, and that the agreement “shall state that SROs shall not serve as school disciplinarians, as enforcers of school regulations or in place of licensed school psychologists, psychiatrists or counselors and that SROs shall not use police powers to address traditional school discipline issues, including non-violent disruptive behavior.”

This is an area that will need to be monitored across the Commonwealth.

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

TESTS... WHAT CAN BE TESTED?

MCAS.jpg

It can be overwhelming to know what kind of evaluation/assessment your child needs, especially when there seems to be a test for everything. There are tests for behavior, intellect, math, speech and language, reading, spelling, writing, ELL, Transition and a handful of other areas. The goal of these evaluations and assessments is to help the student, teacher and parent figure out why the student is struggling in school - whether it be behaviorally, socially and/or academically. In future posts we'll look closer at all of these areas that can be evaluate and/or assessed.  

Today, it is important for you to know  you should speak up and ask questions of your child's teacher/therapist/etc when your child is not making effective progress or is just struggling -behaviorally, socially and/or academically.  After speaking with the appropriate person, send a written request (emails are fine) asking that the school evaluate your child in the areas that are most appropriate based on your concerns.  Most schools will ask that you sign their 'consent form.' You should know that nothing will happen until this 'consent form' is signed and returned to the school.  You should put a note on the 'consent form' that you are requesting that any and all written reports and/or results be sent to you at least two days prior to any meeting to discuss the evaluation.

Be sure you read these reports carefully. It is sometimes helpful to make a copy of any report given to you so that you retain a clean copy. You should then highlight sections that do not make sense to you, make notes in the margins and if there are any mistakes be sure you point this out to the team  so that it can be corrected. While you are at the meeting, refer to your notes and ask as many questions as you need to. Special Education has its own 'terminology' so if something doesn't make sense ask for clarification. 

We will be sharing some blogs over the next few months that focus on different academic skills and/or areas. 

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC
10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com
@emcurranlegal

 

 

 

 

SOME SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO ORGANIZE AN IEP BINDER

How to Organize an IEP Binder.jpg

Over the years, I have tried several different ways to organize a student’s IEP data and other academic related information. The one tool that always works regardless of the amount of paper I’ve accumulated is a 3-ring binder. It may sound like a lot of work but once you have it set up, you can re-use the binder and its set-up year after  year.

What do you to get started: 

  1. 3-ring binder. I usually get a 2 or 3 inch binder but the size depends on how much paperwork you think your student will generate in the year.
  2. Some tabbed section dividers. I buy a set of 6 dividers, as well as two sets of the 8 dividers.
  3. A three hole punch, if you don’t have one.
  4. Some lined post-it notes. I like the medium sized ones but you should use whatever fits your needs best. 

First step:

Put the 6 sections dividers into the binder and label them. These are the labels I use:

  1. Current IEP
  2. Evaluations
  3. Communication
  4. Report cards/Progress Reports  
  5. Behavior/Discipline  
  6. Sample work
  • I divide Communication, Report cards/Progress reports, Behavior/Discipline and Sample work into the four school quarters using the section dividers from the two sets of 8 dividers I have already bought. 

Second step:

I gather all my paperwork together and sort into each of the sections. I file all documents in reverse chronological order - the most recent document on top. I also hand write in light pencil, bottom right of each document, the date I received/sent the document. 

Current IEP

In this section, I file the most current IEP, any meeting notices and my goal tracker sheet. I update the goal tracker sheet each quarter after I've received the progress report. 

Evaluations

If you are new to the process the first two documents will be your request for evaluation followed by your consent to evaluate. Again I keep this section in chronological order with the most recent report on top.  I sometimes forget what reports say in meetings so I usually create a table of contents for this section and will include a blurb or two of the key points in each report. I do NOT write on these reports. If a blurb is not enough I will put post-it notes with my notes in/on the section that is important.

Communication

In the first week or so of the new school year, I’ll reach out to my student’s classroom teacher and discuss what would be the most efficient way to have consistent communication regarding my student’s successes and difficulties. I have already divided this section into the four academic quarters, so whatever is agreed to, I print out copies of all communications and keep them in this section with the most current one on top.

If I find myself calling the school/teacher/etc. frequently; I will create a phone log and keep track of who I spoke with, the date/time and a summary of the discussion. I would file this phone log in this section too. I would also break the log up into the four academic quarters. 

Report cards/Progress Reports  

I have already divided this section into the four academic quarters. I file each report card and progress report accordingly in this file. I sometimes will put  my goal tracker in this section too just because it related to the progress reports. Either section is appropriate and you need to put it in a section that makes the most sense for you. 

I frequently review this section asking myself:  What is the data telling me? What data is missing?  What doesn't make sense that I need to follow up on. 

Behavior/Discipline  

My student's disabilities often come hand-in-hand with behavior/discipline issues. I keep a log for each academic period. The log tells me how often the student is escorted and/or restrained. How often the student is out of class, for what reason and what the resolution was of the issue. I also use these logs to help me understand if the student is making effective progress and whether or not the placement is appropriate. 

Sample work

I like to either ask the teacher for sample work or I collect papers that are sent home each quarter. I tried to have a couple of pieces of work from each class. I do not collect all bad or all good work. I try to collect work that reflects my student's strengths/weaknesses. This way I can have my own insight into their successes and/or difficulties that I can discuss with their teacher. 

Third Step - Optional Step:

Your binder should be individualized to your student and their needs. Here are some other sections and/or pages you could include in your binder....

Medical Section

If your child has a medical issue you should create another section and label it medical. In this section you could  include names/address/contact info for each doctor, a list of medications (as well as dosage and what it is for), doctors notes if  your child was sick etc

Summary Sheet

This sheet includes the student’s name, dob , grade, teacher’s name and contact info, Aides/Supports/etc. will also be listed here, the Team Chair’s name/contact info

Table of Contents

This sheet is exactly what it sounds like. I create a table of contents that breaks down each section and what documents are in each section. 

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com 

U.S. EDUCATION DEPARTMENT DISMISSING HUNDREDS OF CIVIL RIGHTS CASES

OCR US Dept of Education

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) has begun dismissing hundreds of civil rights complaints under a new protocol that went into affect on March 5, 2018.  The new protocol explained in the Department's "Case Processing Manual" is meant to help clean up and eliminate the backlog of complaints. The Department stresses that the protocol is meant to help the Department become more efficient in the handling of complaints.The protocol allows investigators to disregard cases that are part of serial filings or that they consider burdensome to the office. This is concerning as the OCR has clarified in several interviews that this did mean legitimate cases would be dismissed if there were other cases already filed that were comparable. Additionally, the new protocol also eliminates an appeals process for the office’s decisions and bars complaints based on reports or concerns raised in articles or other media outlets.

The mission of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights. The Case Processing Manual (CPM) provides OCR with the procedures to promptly and effectively investigate and resolve complaints, compliance reviews and directed investigations to ensure compliance with the civil rights laws and regulations enforced by OCR.
— U.S. Dept. of Education CASE PROCESSING MANUAL - March 5, 2018

Many civil rights advocates in Massachusetts and across the nation are worried that this new protocol gives too much discretion to the office. Some fear that the office’s rejection of legitimate claims is just another example of the Education Department’s shrinking role in enforcing civil rights laws in the nation’s schools.  If there is evidence of a legal violation, the Education Department should be required to open a case and investigate – that is the purpose of the OCR.

The Education Department, however, cites statistics to support the new protocol. The Department reports that forty-one (41%) percent of the 16,720 civil rights complaints filed in 2016 came from just three people. In 2017, the Department reports that twenty-three (23%) percent of the 12,837 civil rights complaints filed came from the same three people. The Department categorizes these three people as ‘mass filers.'

These changes should be concerning to Education Advocates, Attorneys and parents of students in all schools in the United States. Since Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has assumed control of the Education Department guidance on issues related to protecting students of color, transgender students and students who are victims of sexual assaults on campuses have been deleted from the Education Department’s website. Efforts should be made to keep an eye on what the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights does with this new protocol over the next few months. 

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

Yes, there's a test for that...

MCAS.jpg

It can be overwhelming to know what kind of evaluation/assessment your child needs, especially when there seems to be a test for everything. There are tests for behavior, intellect, math, speech and language, reading, spelling, writing, ELL, Transition and a handful of other areas. The goal of these evaluations and assessments is to help the student, teacher and parent figure out why the student is struggling in school - whether it be behaviorally, socially and/or academically. In future posts we'll look closer at all of these areas that can be evaluate and/or assessed.  

Today, it is important for you to know  you should speak up and ask questions of your child's teacher/therapist/etc when your child is not making effective progress or is just struggling -behaviorally, socially and/or academically.  After speaking with the appropriate person, send a written request (emails are fine) asking that the school evaluate your child in the areas that are most appropriate based on your concerns.  Most schools will ask that you sign their 'consent form.' You should know that nothing will happen until this 'consent form' is signed and returned to the school.  You should put a note on the 'consent form' that you are requesting that any and all written reports and/or results be sent to you at least two days prior to any meeting to discuss the evaluation.

Be sure you read these reports carefully. It is sometimes helpful to make a copy of any report given to you so that you retain a clean copy. You should then highlight sections that do not make sense to you, make notes in the margins and if there are any mistakes be sure you point this out to the team  so that it can be corrected. While you are at the meeting, refer to your notes and ask as many questions as you need to. Special Education has its own 'terminology' so if something doesn't make sense ask for clarification. 

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC
10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com
@emcurranlegal