The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation Monday into allegations the Roseburg School District is discriminating against disabled students by pulling them out of class early and loading them on buses earlier than their non-disabled peers.
The investigation stems from a July 16 complaint filed by Katie Thompson, whose daughter Kierra Grace Thompson attends Fremont Middle School. Thompson told The News-Review she has been asking the Roseburg School District to stop putting her daughter on the bus early for more than a year.
According to Katie Thompson, disabled students are being loaded onto buses early at many schools across the district, in some cases more than 20 minutes before the school bell rings. It’s a practice she said is shorting kids like her daughter on educational time and the chance for after-school socialization with other kids.
Roseburg School District Superintendent Gerry Washburn said Tuesday the district had not yet been notified of the investigation, and even if it had, he wouldn’t be able to comment during the investigation.
Thompson and a couple of Kierra’s caregivers submitted documentation for the discrimination complaint showing they observed the buses being loaded at seven schools in the district, and found the buses disabled students ride were often being loaded before the school bell rang. The buses the non-disabled students ride were filled either after the bell or much closer to the end of the school day, according to their records.
On two separate days, Feb. 13 and March 5 of this year, an observer recorded Fremont Middle School staff loading disabled students onto their buses more than 10 minutes ahead of the end of the school day. Non-disabled students were loaded right when school was out.
At a couple of other schools, the findings were even more striking. On May 2, Melrose Elementary School allegedly placed disabled kids on one of the buses at 2:01 p.m., 29 minutes before the end of the school day. On Feb. 21, Fir Grove started loading disabled kids on one of the buses at 2:08 p.m., 22 minutes before school was out.
Elizabeth Polay, Thompson’s attorney, said it’s unfortunate Thompson had to file a complaint in order to get the problem addressed. She said Thompson hoped the district would work with her.
“It’s really sad and frustrating that has not happened, that this hasn’t changed,” she said. “We hope that maybe with the help of (the Office for Civil Rights) something will change.”
Polay wrote in the complaint that Thompson had requested the district discontinue early dismissals in April 2017, and was told by district officials the practice would be stopped. Once again in November, Thompson asked for the practice to be stopped and district officials assured her that it would be.
Polay said while some disabled students may have specific needs to be loaded early, the rest should be allowed to experience the whole school day. And if they require individualized education, they’re really losing out when the day is shortened.
The complaint asks the Office for Civil Rights to order the school district to stop releasing special education students early, to provide compensatory education to make up for the time they’ve lost, and to train district staff members who provide and supervise student transportation.
This isn’t the first time Thompson filed a complaint with the Department of Education. She is involved in an ongoing battle for the right to bring Kierra’s service dog Peanut to school. Peanut is specially trained to detect Kierra’s seizures but will remain at home at least until that case is resolved.
The U.S. Department of Education is investigating whether Roseburg Public Schools discrimina…
Kierra is doing much better now than she was five years ago, when she was repeatedly having seizures that dropped her to the floor, Thompson said. She still has smaller seizures. She’s on three anti-epileptic drugs, and at age 14, she resembles a 2-year-old in many ways. But she’s not confined to a wheelchair anymore, and loves to run, her mother said.
“Her personality is really shining through. She’s a flower child. She loves to be barefoot. She loves to have the rain fall down on her. She loves to be outdoors,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the minutes children with special needs are losing could make a big difference.
“Every child deserves to have a full day of education, and I just want to have that happen to all the children in the town that I live in,” she said.
Thompson said she also wants her daughter to have the chance to interact with her peers after school.
“She’s very happy. She’s very bubbly. She’s very outgoing. She loves to give high fives, and I want her to have the opportunity to be able to do that, just like all the other kids in her school get to,” she said.