Lawsuit takes aim at Jackson, Mississippi SPED services

In a lawsuit filed July 10, a trio of disability advocacy groups accused the Mississippi Department of Education of failing to hold the Jackson Public School District accountable for a range of violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

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Disability Rights Mississippi, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Southern Disability Law Center accused JPS of repeatedly suspending special education students, despite federal prohibitions against suspending students for behaviors that are manifestations of their disabilities. JPS is also accused of segregating hundreds of students in alternative settings, even though many of those students would benefit from studying in more integrated settings.

In addition, the school district also allegedly failed to create appropriate individualized education plans or provide older students with proper transition services to help them with their post-high school academic and employment prospects, as required by federal law.

“Plaintiff and the proposed class are merely seeking to claim their rightful opportunity to make meaningful behavioral and academic progress to achieve and succeed academically, and cannot allow more time to pass for JPS to continue to treat their education as expendable,” according to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

The state released a report with similar findings in November 2010, in response to a complaint followed by the advocacy groups against the district. JPS responded with a plan to improve some of its services, though the advocacy groups contend that the district’s plan had some “glaring deficiencies” and completely excluded the recommendations of the technical officer hired by the state to assist the district.

In September 2011, the state rejected the plan, but according to the lawsuit, took few steps to ensure that JPS followed through. In May 2012, the state agreed to give JPS more time to create a new plan.

For the advocacy groups, the state has given the district more than enough time to begin restructuring its special education services, and must now be forced to use it regulatory authority to bring the district into compliance.

“Sadly, despite having the authority and the obligation under federal and state law to hold JPS accountable for these violations and ensure the provision of these critical special education and related services to children with disabilities, the (Mississippi Department of Education) has exhibited complete indifference to Plaintiff’s plea for relief, and has failed to take appropriate action to compel JPS to correct the individual and systemic violations of the IDEA that harm thousands of JPS’s most vulnerable students,” the advocacy groups stated in the lawsuit.

Disability Rights Mississippi is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.