NAACP requests federal investigation into juvenile justice education

NAACP requests federal investigation into juvenile justice education.

The Maryland chapter of the NAACP is calling for a federal investigation into a Maryland State Department of Education program for juvenile offenders.

In a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice, the chapter says youths in state detention centers and residential facilities are being denied an adequate education.

"Our complaint focuses on the failure to provide the appropriate educational services to which these students were entitled, but of which they were deprived in violation of state and federal laws and regulations," NAACP chapter President Gerald Stansbury said in a statement.

The NAACP said the complaint arose from a yearlong investigation that found several violations of the educational rights of students — many of whom are black special-education students.

"The situation has persisted for years and up to the present," Stansbury said.

The chapter did not provide details.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education said Friday it was department policy not to confirm receipt of civil rights complaints or to divulge details of allegations. If the department opens an investigation into a complaint, officials said, the institution and the public would be notified.

Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for state education department, said the department had not yet received the complaint. He declined further comment.

State investigators have acknowledged the education program has failed to follow federal mandates for special-education students, employed unqualified instructors and kept poor records of student credits and course work.

During the recent debate about building a $30 million jail for young offenders charged as adults, officials said that educating youths in the justice system — seen as important to their rehabilitation — has become increasingly difficult.

Sam J. Abed, secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, said in September that the state has had to expand educational programs to serve youths charged as adults because they have longer stays while they wait for hearings in adult court.

"Managing their education has been more difficult," Abed said.

The state education department took over education programs in the juvenile facilities in 2013. The programs serve 5,000 children annually in facilities across the state.

Assistant Public Defender Grace Reusing filed a complaint that year on behalf of seven clients and all other students with disabilities. She cited several ways in which she said the education programs were failing youths in juvenile services facilities.

Among the allegations are that the programs were denying students federally mandated special-education services and were employing unqualified teachers.

The 2013 complaint prompted investigations by the state education department's Division of Special Education and Early Intervention Services. Those investigations continue.

Reinhard and Reusing both declined to discuss the complaint. In a response to Reusing's filing, state investigators wrote in January 2014 that a federal mandate for individualized student education plans — intended to assure certain services and accommodations to students with disabilities — was not being followed.

Investigators said students in state juvenile facilities "have not consistently been provided with services that are similar or equivalent to" the federal requirements.

In one case, they said, a student's individualized education plan called for 1.5 hours of special-education instruction in social studies, but was "revised to discontinue this service due to lack of availability of instruction in this area at the facility."

Denying students services outlined in their individualized plans is a violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

State officials also found the programs violated federal law by providing untrained and unqualified instructors to teach special-education students. In some cases, they said, there was no documentation that math and English teachers held certificates to teach those subjects.

In other reports, officials found that the programs downgraded courses in algebra and geometry to "basic math," and failed to update student records to accurately reflect courses and credits — making it difficult to transfer credits to public high schools when students were released.

The state was ordered to take "corrective actions," such as updating the individualized education plans to reflect students' needs, providing compensatory services to special-education students who were affected by the violations and documenting that teachers are qualified.

In the NAACP's complaint, Stansbury said more work is needed.

"Due to the persistence and seriousness of the violations and [the education department's] apparent reluctance to implement the necessary corrections," he said, "the NAACP is requesting a full investigation … and that [the department] be compelled to provide appropriate relief and remedies to address the matter completely."

erica.green@baltsun.com

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