NC disabilities group files complaint against state school board

Posted June 10, 2016

— A North Carolina learning disabilities group has filed a complaint with the federal government, alleging that the State Board of Education is discriminating against minority students with disabilities who attend low-performing schools.

The group, Learning Disabilities Association of North Carolina, filed the complaint on June 1 in response to a policy change the board made in February that determines how students are selected for special education services.

When determining if a student with a specific learning disability is eligible for special education, the state should compare the child's academic achievement to state standards, according to the group. Instead, the state board has altered the policy so that students are compared to other children of the same race in their classroom, school or district, the group said.

In her complaint, LDANC President JoAnna Barnes said the change means "nonwhite students with disabilities in low-performing schools will be discriminated against and their civil rights violated." She is asking the federal government to withhold money from North Carolina until the state board reverses its policy.

"In Y.E. Smith Elementary School in Durham, North Carolina, about half the school's students are black, and only 5.7% of these students pass both the State Reading and Math tests," Barnes wrote. "So, under the current NC Policies, when determining if a black student at Y.E. Smith Elementary has demonstrated 'inadequate academic achievement,' he will be compared to the nearly 95% of black students at Y.E. Smith who do not pass the State Reading and Math tests."

Barnes filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights and sent another letter to the agency's Office of Special Education Programs.

She also plans to send a copy of the complaint to retired North Carolina Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who has handled the long-running Leandro case in which the North Carolina Supreme Court ordered that the state constitution guarantees every child a sound, basic education.

Manning is still a special senior Superior Court judge and continues to oversee the state's efforts to meet the dictates of the Leandro ruling.

In a statement to WRAL News, State Board of Education Attorney Katie Cornetto said staff will review the complaint and respond to the Office for Civil Rights at the appropriate time.

"It is premature to provide comments at this time," she wrote.

Ginny Sharpless, a parent and member of LDANC, says she wrote to two state school board members last year when the policy change was being considered.

"They want to keep these kids out of special ed," Sharpless said in an interview Friday. "It all comes down to money."

"What they're doing is wrong. Keeping disabled children out of special education is wrong, and it’s 2016," she added. "And they knew it was wrong and they did it anyway, and it kills me."


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  • John Lobenstein Jun 11, 2016
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    The description of the complaint's basis does not support the law suit. From the article it seems the student(s) is/are being evaluated within their peer group and a shared education environment. This shared environment eliminates the effects of less tangible influences such as the physical facilities.

  • Katie Miller Jun 10, 2016
    user avatar

    Nc needs a way to ensure kids do not continue to fall behind. There are kids in high school who can barely read. There are schools where only 20-30% of their students can pass Math 1. Where is the disconnect? The answer is not labeling them special education. For most schools, special education does not get the student much more than a guaranteed diploma! The schools have been taught to pass the kid along bc he/she has a learning disability. The disability is due to schools continuing the cycle by promoting kids who are not ready to move forward.

  • Ginny Sharpless Jun 10, 2016
    user avatar

    Scoring below the state average does not mean a child has a Learning Disability. There are many things needed for a child to become eligible for Special Education in the category of Specific Learning Disabilities, but basically, the child needs to have a disability, for example, dyslexia, AND must be academically behind. One or the other doesn't get a child into Special Education.
    NC has changed has they define "academic achievement" . . . NC is now using different standards based on which "cultural group" a child belongs to. Yes, this is 2016!

  • Katie Miller Jun 10, 2016
    user avatar

    So if they score below state average, they have a Learning disability?