The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and R.I. Legal Services have filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the Providence School District for failing to provide parents of special education students with the documents that are used to determine a child’s eligibility for services and the nature of the services to be provided.

The complaint, filed by RILS attorney Veronika Kot and ACLU of RI cooperating attorney Ellen Saideman, notes that parents need access to those records in order to meaningfully participate in the development of their child’s special education plan, as federal law requires. The documents that the complaint claims the school district fails to retain or hand over to parents contain student test protocols, which include notes and observations of evaluators that form the basis of reports on the services that must be provided to address the child’s special education needs.

As the complaint notes:

Since evaluations are the basis on which a child’s individual programming and services are built, it is critical that they be accurate. Protocols identifiable to the student are the documentation that demonstrates that an evaluation was in fact correctly administered and scored and that the report summarizing a child’s needs is in fact correct. For this reason, it is important that there be full transparency regarding such protocols. This is only possible, of course, if such documentation is routinely maintained and made available to parents and guardians.

The complaint, on behalf of a Providence parent and her child, was filed as a class administrative complaint on behalf of all children with disabilities or suspected disabilities in the school district. The school district has admitted that it has failed to maintain and /or cannot locate evaluation and test protocols for the child and, presumably, other students. The complaint seeks a variety of forms of relief, including an order “prohibiting the Providence School District from using evaluations where protocols have been mislaid, lost, or destroyed illegally if a parent or guardian objects to their use,” and training of appropriate school personnel to ensure special education testing protocols are properly administered and maintained.

RILS attorney Kot said today: “Parents are by law equal participants in team determinations about the kinds of services their children with disabilities need in order to be successful in school. But they can only participate equally if they have equal access to all the information, including information collected in the course of evaluating their children’s needs. The credibility of these evaluation reports depends on maintaining and sharing the data that underlies their conclusions about what the child needs.” ACLU of RI attorney Saideman added: “Special education is supposed to be a collaborative endeavor, with parents and school districts working together.  Parents need to be treated as equal partners and given equal access to important information regarding their children.” 

A copy of the complaint can be found here.