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Complaint: Wake County Schools Fail to Comply With Disabilities Act

PHOTO: Child in wheelchair.
PHOTO: Child in wheelchair.
July 20, 2012

RALEIGH, N. C. – A complaint filed Thursday against Wake County Public Schools alleges the school system continues to violate the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. According to the complaint, the state's largest school system, serving 146,000 students, fails to support students with disabilities during long-term suspensions.

Attorney Jason Langberg says students with disabilities who have been suspended don't receive equal education and support services compared to what is offered to their peers. Often, explains Langberg, they are sent home to complete their coursework online, further isolating them.

"School districts should be providing the kids with what they need and oftentimes, our kids need mental-health counseling, they need mentors, they need parent counseling. Their parents need training on how to support them educationally."

This is the third attempt by Advocates for Children's Services, a project of Legal Aid NC, to force the Wake County Public Schools to comply with federal law. Their past two complaints were supported by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, which launched its own investigation.

A representative for Wake County Schools says the school system is reviewing the current complaint.

Langberg says Wake County Public Schools are representative of a statewide problem, and blames recent state budget cuts for making it even harder for school systems to comply with the federal mandate.

"Given the budget cuts, even well-intentioned, well-meaning teachers and principals and school system officials, who want to follow state and federal special education law oftentimes can't, because there's no money."

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction also is reviewing the complaint to decide whether to undertake another investigation.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC