Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Department of Justice Finds Leflore County, Mississippi, Juvenile Detention Center School Violated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced today that it has completed its investigation of special education services at the Leflore County, Mississippi, Juvenile Detention Center and found that the state of Mississippi violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) at the detention center school.
In the letter of findings sent to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, the department concluded that the provision of special education services at the Detention Center school violated IDEA in three important respects: failing to identify, locate and evaluate children with disabilities; failing to promptly obtain Individualized Education Programs (IEP) from home schools; and depriving students with disabilities of a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
The Justice Department investigation found that the detention center school has failed to implement appropriate policies and procedures to identify, locate and evaluate children with disabilities for special education services. For instance, the detention center has no intake practices to ask children if they received special education services at their home school. And once children are in the detention center school, there are no procedures to observe and respond to student performance that may indicate a special education need.
According to the department’s investigation, the detention center school does not promptly obtain students’ IEPs when they are identified as requiring special education services upon arrival. As a result, students are denied special education services that they were entitled to because the detention center school’s records retrieval practices are inadequate.
The Justice Department’s investigation also found that the detention center school failed to provide a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities. Contrary to the requirements of the IDEA, the detention center school did not use a child’s IEP to drive instruction and often did not provide education services required in the IEP.
“Students with disabilities do not forfeit their rights to special education services simply because they are accused of or have committed juvenile offenses,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Agencies that are involved in the provision of special education of children in correctional facilities, such as the Mississippi Department of Education, must continue to ensure that students receive special education services even while incarcerated.”
“Incarceration for even a short time is a turbulent time in a child’s life, and appropriate special education services can be a stabilizing factor,” said U.S. Attorney Felicia C. Adams of the Northern District of Mississippi. “The Justice Department looks forward to continued cooperation with Mississippi to resolve these findings under mutually agreeable terms.”
The Justice Department began its comprehensive investigation of the conditions at the detention center in 2009. In March 2011, the department issued a findings letter identifying violations of children’s educational rights, as well as Constitutional violations related to safety and security. In June 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi entered a consent decree between the United States and Leflore County that resolved the United States’ safety and security claims.
The findings letter the Justice Department issued today as to special education is directed to the state of Mississippi because it took over the Leflore County School system in 2013 and is therefore responsible for special education services at the detention center school. The department opened its investigation of Mississippi’s compliance with IDEA in 2014, and received full cooperation in this investigation from Mississippi and the staff at the detention center.