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The Collier ESE Reform Group Files Complaints Against 64 Florida School Districts For ADA Violations
The group says it is concerned with how districts deal with education and discipline of students who fall under the umbrella of Exceptional Student Education, denoting a range of physical, cognitive and learning disabilities. The Lee County School district is among those being examined, following a September 2008 ruling by the Office of Civil Rights that found the Collier County School District to be in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Since then, said reform group President Cathy Cannivet, parents from all over the state have called to report problems similar to the one that prompted her and group member Bill Hughes to file the Collier complaint.
Collier (FL) Parent Group Files Civil Rights Complaints against 64 Florida School Districts
June 2, 2009

NAPLES — A parent group that launched a federal investigation into the Collier (Florida) County School District’s civil rights protocol has broadened its net.

The Collier ESE Reform group in April lodged complaints against 64 of 67 Florida school districts. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights informed the group via letter that it is acting on the complaint and launching investigations into how each county school district adheres to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The group says it is concerned with how districts deal with education and discipline of students who fall under the umbrella of Exceptional Student Education, denoting a range of physical, cognitive and learning disabilities.

The Lee County School district is among those being examined, following a September 2008 ruling by the Office of Civil Rights that found the Collier County School District to be in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Since then, said reform group President Cathy Cannivet, parents from all over the state have called to report problems similar to the one that prompted her and group member Bill Hughes to file the Collier complaint.

Collier, which is among the three districts not named in the complaint, was exempt because it was already examined by the Office of Civil Rights, as were the Miami-Dade and Pinellas school districts.

“We found that what was going on in Collier County is going on across the state,” said Cannivet. “The Florida Department of Education and the school districts are failing to inform parents of their rights under ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act).”

Cannivet and Hughes filed the complaint alleging that Hughes’ son was barred from bringing a service dog to school, and further stated that the district lacked a system of safeguards including an impartial hearing process required by the Rehabilitation Act.

The Office of Civil rights ruled there was evidence to support a finding that the district’s safeguards do not “fully comply” with the law, and Superintendent Dennis Thompson has said the district since modified its policies and now complies with the law.

Cannivet said she filed a complaint regarding the Collier County School District, alleging it is still not conforming to the law and prompting the Office of Civil Rights to reopen the investigation closed in September 2008. However, Collier school district spokesman Joe Landon said on Tuesday the district had not seen the new complaint and had no further comment. A phone call to the U.S. Department of Education’s press office was not returned Tuesday.

Cannivet said she believes school districts in Florida are deliberately withholding information from parents about their rights under the law, and further says the Florida Department of Education has been negligent in overseeing how districts conform to the laws.

“The Florida Department of Education is not required by law to monitor the school districts (in regard to the rights of disabled students),” Cannivet said. “They need to come up with one uniform policy. It’s ridiculous for 67 school districts to have 67 different policies under ADA (Section) 504.”

Karen Taylor, a Cape Coral resident, and mother of a 14-year-old with a specified learning disability, said she applauds the effort to expand the examination state-wide.

Taylor, whose son attends a Lee County Public School, said she struggled and fought to have a say in her son’s Individualized Education Plan, a written document outlining the education program for a child with a disability. An Individualized Education Plan is required for all students with disabilities by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Taylor said her son’s plan was changed without consulting her, and she fought to get a seat at the table in order to discuss the changes, eventually bringing in a lawyer after she said she was intimidated and belittled by the district for speaking up. At the time, she was employed by the Lee County School District as a bus driver, but she claims she was fired for speaking up about how her son was being treated.

“I was fired Oct. 22 when I didn’t shut up,” said Taylor. “My son was threatened, I was threatened.”

District spokesman Joe Donzelli said the district had provided documentation to the Office of Civil Rights to demonstrate its compliance with the law, but said the district would not comment any further on an open investigation.

For her situation, things have gotten better, Taylor said, but she wants to make sure a similar situation does not befall another family in Lee County, Southwest Florida or elsewhere in the state.

That is the point of the complaint filed by Collier ESE Reform, Cannivet said.

“By filing these 64 complaints with OCR (the Office of Civil Rights), I would have to say that I bet never in history with another state has this happened,” said Cannivet. “Florida, right now, is the only state in the country this has ever happened to.”

Letter from the Collier EDE Reform Group to Dr. Dennis Thompson, Superintendent, Collier County Public Schools

Related Document:

Letter from Office of Civil Rights
Page 2
Letter confirms that the Office of Civil Rights has determined it will investigate all 64 complaints filed against Florida school districts.

News source:

Collier School Board criticized for not addressing special needs students complaints

Sunday, April 26, 2009

NAPLES — Terry Dunn-Fischer’s daughter is dyslexic.

She said she tried for years to get the Collier County School District to properly evaluate her student for a learning disability. Frustrated with what she said was a lack of district response, she has removed her daughter from Collier County schools.

“My daughter is in a Lee County school and I am the bus driver,” she said. “But she is getting the help she needs.”

Her frustrations reflect those of a group of exceptional student education parents and advocates who believe their voices are being silenced and continue to be silenced.

Cathy Cannivet, president of Collier Parents Seeking Reform, wrote to the Collier County School Board last week that communication needs to be improved between the district and ESE parents. Cannivet wrote that board members were presented with an excellent opportunity to exercise “a bold, coherent, and comprehensive response to community concerns” brought to their attention by (Dunn-Fischer) and also by Patty Portenier, on behalf of Collier-ESE-Reform at a recent meeting.

“It was shocking to observe your complete lack of response and your inability, or refusal, to communicate with the people who appeared before you,” she wrote. “Not one of you asked a question or solicited further information, nor did any of you extend an invitation to meet with the parent or Ms. Portenier or even request for them to contact you personally.”

Portenier spoke to the School Board about Collier ESE Reform’s request to be placed on the agenda. A request, she said, was denied by Superintendent Dennis Thompson. She reminded the Collier County School Board that Collier ESE Reform won an Office for Civil Rights complaint against the Collier County School District. Cannivet and Bill Hughes, whose son Derek was denied the right to bring a service dog to school, filed the complaint alleging the district did not establish or implement a system of safeguards that includes an impartial hearing process consistent with the legal requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The Office of Civil Rights ruled in September 2008 that there was evidence to support a finding that the district’s safeguards, as written and implemented, do not “fully comply” with the law.

Thompson said last week that the district has modified its policies and now does comply with the law.

“We agreed to make a change in our procedure,” he said. “It had nothing to do with services we provide to children.”

The new policies explain how the district will process complaints and provide addition information about mediation.

The reason for the denial, according to Thompson, was because Dunn-Fischer was referring to a specific individualized education plan (IEP) meeting. Students with special needs have the individual programs, which are developed to set goals for a child’s learning and behavior that are reasonable and can be measured and to explain what the school district will provide to help the student meet those goals.

Those meetings are usually held at the school level, Thompson said.

District policy has also been that the board does not communicate with individuals who have filed complaints against the district in court and Dunn-Fischer had filed a due process complaint against the district.

For her part, Portenier said she will not rest until Collier ESE Reform’s rights are honored.

“Deliberate indifference is discrimination,” she said.

Collier school district sticks with familiar child care providers

CALL FOR ACTION: Dyslexia distress

NAPLES, Fla. - According to the Mayo Clinic's website, "dyslexia" is the most common learning disability, affecting 5-percent of elementary school kids. So Terry Dunn-Fischer can't understand why she couldn't get the Collier County school district to recognize her daughter's dyslexia.

Up before 5 a.m., 9-year-old Annalyse's day starts very early. She's out the door, in the car, and on the road before 7 a.m.

"It's a really long way to my school and sometimes it's really boring," Annalyse said describing her ride.

She makes the hour trip from her Naples home to Pinewoods Elementary School in Estero every day.

Until her mother decided to move her daughter to Lee County, Annalyse steadily fell behind.

"I felt frustrated because it's kinda hard at my other school. Because the teacher sometimes write too fast or when I asked to slow down they won't slow down and they just won' answers...ignore me," said Annalyse.

Her mother, Terry Dunn-Fischer, says Collier County wouldn't do anything to help.

"The biggest issue was Collier County wouldn't recognize there's a problem," said Dunn-Fischer.

Terry took her daughter to a private expert for an evaluation and found out Annalyse has dyslexia.

"She had a evaluation done. That was like 30 pages that clearly showed what the child was doing, what the child needed and I presented that to Collier County and their answer was we don't accept the evaluation. And did they give me a written reason why? Absolutely not," said Dunn-Fischer.

The district receives extra money from the state for educating special needs students like Annalyse. But Terry says her daughter never received any of the services she needed.

This isn't the first time a parent has accused the Collier District of withholding services. Two other parents have filed federal lawsuits against the district, alleging the district purposely keep from evaluating special needs kids so they don't have to spend money on services to help them.

WINK News wanted to ask the district if those allegations were true, but in email after email they denied our requests for on-camera interviews.

According to most experts in dyslexia, time is of the essence. The person who already has lost the most is Annalyse.

"She should be going into 4th grade this year coming up but presently she's in second grade," said Annalyse.

Her mom used a state scholarship to move Annalyse one county over to Lee County where she's now getting services she needs.

"I really like this school because I'm really getting what I should be," said Annalyse.

The Collier County School District did provide us the following statement about their policies regarding dyslexia:

"To address the issues raised by WINK-TV:

The policies for assessing special needs students, re-evaluating special needs students and assigning and re-evaluating those student's IEP's:

The policies for assessing and re-evaluating students with disabilities and the development of the Individual Education Plan are delineated in the 276-page Special Programs and Procedures document. Section 1003.57(1)(d), Florida Statutes, requires that district school boards submit to the Department of Education (DOE) proposed procedures for the provision of special instruction and services for exceptional students once every three years. This document serves as the basis for the identification, evaluation, eligibility determination, Individual Education Plan development, and placement of students in special programs for exceptional students. On September 22, 2008, the board approved the District School Board of Collier County Special Programs and Procedures for Exceptional Students. This document is available on request through the District Information Officer, Joe Landon.

The district's official stance on Dyslexia, and what measures are taken to educate students with Dyslexia:

The District's official stance on dyslexia is as follows: Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability and as such, falls under rule 6A-6.03018, Exceptional Education Eligibility for Students with Specific Learning Disabilities. The District provides direct and explicit instruction and progress monitoring, along with a multi-sensory structured literacy program based on the identified needs in the student's Individual Education Plan.

What screening does the district do to identify children with reading disabilities like dyslexia?

Students identified as struggling based on the outcome of ongoing progress monitoring assessments receive immediate intensive intervention in areas of instructional need. An additional 30 minutes of intensive instruction is provided daily to all K-5 struggling readers, in a small group or individual setting. Students in grades 1-10 are assessed in order to diagnose areas of instructional need both formally (GRA+DE, benchmark assessments, DIBELS) and informally (running records, informal reading inventories).

What changes the District has made regarding the OCR Resolution?

As a result of the Letter of Finding issued by the Office for Civil Rights, the District has amended and clarified the several avenues of complaint available to parents and students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Our Parent/Student Rights and Procedural Safeguards are now explicitly detailed to specifically clarify District complaint procedures to comply with 34 CFR 104.36.
104.36 Procedural safeguards.

A recipient that operates a public elementary or secondary education program or activity shall establish and implement, with respect to actions regarding the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of persons who, because of handicap, need or are believed to need special instruction or related services, a system of procedural safeguards that includes notice, an opportunity for the parents or guardian of the person to examine relevant records, an impartial hearing with opportunity for participation by the person's parents or guardian and representation by counsel, and a review procedure. Compliance with the procedural safeguards of section 615 of the Education of the Handicapped Act is one means of meeting this requirement.

4/23/09 "

WINK NEWS shared the statement with Dunn-Fischer. She says her daughter has not received any of the services described in the statement issued by Collier County.

Federal investigation into 64 Florida school districts

SOUTHWEST FLORIDA- Sixty-four school districts across Florida are now under investigation for civil rights violations, including five southwest Florida districts.

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights is looking into complaints that the districts may be denying rights to special needs students. The complaints were filed by Collier ESE Reform, an advocacy group made up of Collier County parents with Special Needs children.

"This is very good news. I've been receiving emails all morning from attorneys and advocates because they appreciate and realize the problem that's going on in this state," said Catherine Cannivet on behalf of Collier ESE Reform about the new investigation.

OCR will check to see if procedural safeguards that are guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act are being folllowed properly by the school districts. Districts receive federal funding to honor these safeguards, which gives the U.S. Department of Education the jurisdiction to investigate complaints, according to the OCR letter sent to Cannivet. Last fall, OCR found the Collier County School District was in violation of section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and issued a resolution. However, Collier Schools are now being investigated again due to complaints that they may have violated that resolution.
The Collier County School District would not comment on this situation when CALL FOR ACTION first reported the OCR Investigation.

Spokespeople for the Lee and Charlotte County School districts said they are taking the matter seriously and providing OCR with whatever information they need to conduct their investigation.

Trust WINK News and CALL FOR ACTION to bring you the latest with this story as it develops.

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