The Florida Department of Education is investigating the Sarasota County School District after a state judge found the district placed a number of children into programs reserved specifically for students with severe cognitive disabilities.
According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the investigation was spurred by Judge Diane Cleaver’s finding that district officials had falsified documents that placed a student with an average IQ into a program where students are exempt from standardized state testing and able to graduate from high school at a first grade reading level.
“Staff conduct related to such misrepresentations was systemic in the district and fundamentally violated the Individuals with Disabilities Act, which is based on individualized education derived from an honest reporting of the data,” wrote Cleavinger.
The district’s student and family handbook says the program, called Access Points, follows alternate achievement standards which “reflect the key concepts of the Florida Standards and the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards at reduced levels of complexity.”
The school district was informed of the department’s investigation in a Nov. 4 letter from state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to former Saraota superintendent Todd Bowen.
“It is clear to me that an independent review is necessary to determine the full scope of what has occurred, ensure that all students are receiving the required services, and reestablish the public trust,” wrote Corcoran.
School district spokesperson Tracey Beeker said in a written statement that the school district will fully cooperate with the DOE’s Office of Inspector General and the Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services throughout the investigation.
“In addition, the school board will meet on December 10 in an executive session to determine if the district will appeal the judge’s findings regarding this case,” said Beeker. “Everyone at Sarasota County Schools works hard to ensure successful educational outcomes for all students, and we will cooperate fully with the Inspector General regarding this matter.”