Settlement reached in Mississippi special education case

Photo of young boy in a wheelchair using the lift on a school bus.
Education for all

The Mississippi Department of Education reached an agreement last month to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging a range of systematic violations of federal special education law in the state’s second-largest school district.

In September 2012, Disability Rights Mississippi, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Southern Disability Law Center accused the Jackson Public School District of failing to provide appropriate Individual Education Plans to hundreds of special education students, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Specifically, the lawsuit accused the JPS of placing students unnecessarily in segregated settings, creating IEPs that were not tailored to provide meaningful benefits to the students, and failing to provide appropriate behavioral supports or transitional planning, among other allegations.

In addition, the lawsuit argued that JPS routinely suspends students with disabilities without providing legally mandated Manifest Determination Reviews, to determine if the behaviors in questions were a manifestation of the students’ disabilities.

According to a October 24 article from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger article, the six-page settlement, filed September 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, requires the Mississippi Department of Education to provide training to JPS educators to ensure they are remedying each of these alleged violations.

The MDE must also conduct quarterly reviews of these efforts and share its findings with the attorneys in the lawsuit.

The settlement, however, will only last through the 2014-2015 school year.

“We’re going to monitor things,” Corrie Cockrell, attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “We want to make sure they’re moving in the right direction. Even though progress is being made in some areas, there are so many things that need to be done.”

Disability Rights Mississippi and Disability Rights Washington, which operates this Galaxy website, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.