The Flagstaff Unified School District Governing Board is mulling ways to hold the Arizona Schools for the Deaf and Blind accountable after signing an agreement with them to once again provide services to FUSD students.
The FUSD Board decided to end and not renew its contract with ASDB two years ago after an Arizona Board of Education investigation found FUSD in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The board agreed to sign the contract in order to make sure that students with special needs had the tutors and aides they needed at the beginning of the school year.
The school year for Killip Elementary and Leupp schools started July 19. The other schools in the district start the year on Aug. 10. The contract has a 90-day clause that allows either the district or ASDB to end or renegotiated the contract.
The district was found in violation of the act after Dani Lawrence and her husband Aaron Green reported that ASDB had not been keeping all of the records on her son’s improvement from year to year. The act requires student records to be kept for four years and FUSD requires them to be kept for five years after a student leaves the district. As a state agency, ASDB is allowed to destroy student records every two years.
Susan Smith, FUSD’s director of Exceptional Student Services, brought a new contract with ASDB before the FUSD board last week. The contract would last one year with the option for the district to renew it with ASDB for the next five years. For the last two years, the district has contracted for some services through the Foundation for Blind Children.
Smith said staff was recommending going back to ASDB because as a state agency it couldn’t pick and choose which students and parents it wanted to work with. Because the Foundation for Blind Children was a private entity it could choose which students to provide services to, leaving the district open to legal troubles because the district has to provide services to all students who need them. Because ASDB is a state agency it also must provide services to all students.
The district was also having trouble recruiting skilled staff to provide services that the Foundation didn’t cover, such as education audiologist. The district is currently working with an audiologist from Flagstaff Medical Center but that person provides more of a medical outlook on a student’s hearing problems, students need help with finding an educational plan that works for them. ASDB has an education audiologist on staff, she said.
Smith said the district has put several new rules in place to prevent a repeat of two years ago. The district now has a student support specialist in each school who is in charge of making sure that students are getting the aid they need on a regular basis.
School Board members wanted to know what specific changes were in place to make sure records were kept according to the federal law. All of the board members were concerned that there was no specific guarantee spelled out in the agreement that ASDB would be required to keep records for a set amount of time.
Board member Kathryn Kozak was also concerned that there was no way listed in the contract that the district could audit ASDB’s records.
Smith said that student support specialists in each school will be responsible for collecting and keeping progress data on each student throughout the year. Smith would keep an eye on the specialist to make sure that the records keeping requirements would be met.
Green and Lawrence pleaded with the board not to approve the contract without assurances that ASDB would keep proper records.
“They weren’t providing services in compliance with the law,” Green said. “That should be the bare minimum in this contract.”
The contract doesn’t guarantee that the records will be retained, he said. The data from those records is important to parents who have a child that needs special education services in order to track their progress.
The school board unanimously agreed that the contract didn’t have strong enough language to prevent a records mishap from happening again and teetered back and forth on the idea of approving the contract.
Board member Kara Kelty said she was not comfortable with the idea that the current provider could pick and choose which students and parents to work with.
Board member Carole Gilmore was concerned about students having access to the services they needed at the beginning of the school year.
Smith said the next meeting of the ASDB Board was in September, which is the earliest that a renegotiated contract could be approved after it had been rehashed by the district’s and ASDB’s attorneys. She said that about five to 10 students would be without interpretation services for class and the district would have to find substitutes for other children.
Board President Christine Fredericks suggested approving the current contract to make sure that services were in place at the beginning of the year and then having staff try to get stronger language on records retention inserted into the contract in the next 90 days.
In an email to the Arizona Daily Sun, Lawrence wrote, "Our family is disappointed to see the return of ASDB and had hoped FUSD would have done a better job of writing a service contract with federal law protection for student rights. Sad to see the agreement adopted without those assurances."
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