Friday, July 15, 2016

Grand jury: Contra Costa County education office should improve tracking of special ed complaints

BRENTWOOD -- The county's Office of Education needs to shore up its oversight of its special education schools by providing a stronger process for making internal complaints, establishing a written protocol on how to file incident reports and logging police visits, according to a Contra Costa County grand jury report released last week.
The panel's investigation was spurred after special education teachers at Liberty and Heritage high schools spoke out in the fall against the principal of those programs at two county Board of Education meetings, after not getting a satisfactory response from the county's superintendent on the issue. The principal, who is not named in the report, has since left those programs.
Teachers did not have a mechanism to voice their concerns about the administrator, who they alleged treated staff unfairly, forcing the transfer or early retirement of teachers and other staff, the report states. The county office did not have a procedure for making complaints without possible risk to one's job security. The situation had a negative impact on disabled students, mainly who are nonverbal and communicate by facial expression, body movement and other means, the report says.
In addition, the grand jury found the county office did not have a written protocol on who should complete, review and respond to incident reports involving special education students. At times, that led to such reports missing the review of necessary staff, including the school psychologist.
Even more troubling, the grand jury found that police were called to the schools for suspected child abuse and severe behavioral situations involving special education students on a number of occasions, but there's no written protocol requiring that the schools maintain a record of these visits or report the events to the county office of ed.
The county Office of Education operates five such special education schools in East County that serve students whose Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, include special needs beyond the ability of a local school district to serve their educational requirements, the report says. The county charges a home district about $44,000 a year for each student enrolled in county-operated special education programs. The report recommends that the county track and trend complaint data at the schools, respond to such complaints promptly, establish a written protocol for incident reports and log and track police visits.
However, county Office of Education spokesman Terry Koehne said that his office responded to every workplace complaint and launched a thorough investigation with an outside investigator and found them to be unsubstantiated, he said.
The internal investigation did find, however, that there were workplace practices that needed to be reviewed and changed, though, he said. "Those practices have been promptly and appropriately addressed."
The former principal took another position in the Liberty School District last November, Koehne said. Tom Scruggs is now principal of the county's Far East County special education program, in which about 160 students are enrolled.
He said his office appreciated the grand jury's interest in this matter and will look seriously at the findings.
Koehne said the county's written response, which is due no later than August 29, "will include clarification and corrections of incorrect info."
For example, the county does have processes in place for filing incident reports, and tracks them for corrective action, he said. And when police are called, school and county administration are always informed.
"However we agree having these procedures (for incident reports) in writing and more accessible is in the best interest of the agency and our employees," he said. He said it also would be beneficial to keep a log for when police are consulted.
"It is our job to keep kids safe, and we take that job very seriously," he said.
The report also recommends the office consider creating a "score card" for special education programs that would use objective measures and benchmarks to assess the effectiveness, rather than require parents to rely on word-of-mouth when choosing programs.
Brian Inglesby, the director of the Contra Costa Special Education Local Plan Area, or SELPA, said that his office works closely with the county office of education and school districts to assist parents with program placement for their children. The effectiveness of specific programs is determined for each student on an annual basis, if not more often, he said.
July 7, 2016
The Mercury News
By Joyce Tsai

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