NC disabilities group files complaint against state school board
Posted June 10, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — 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."
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."