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Justice Department Secures Agreement with Florida School District to Protect Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities

March 6, 2024
Source: U.S. Justice Department (DOJ)

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The Justice Department announced today a settlement agreement with the Pasco County School District in Florida to resolve the department’s investigation into alleged discrimination against students with disabilities in school discipline, threat assessment practices and referrals of students to law enforcement. The department conducted its investigation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The department’s investigation found that the district routinely suspended students or called police for disability-related behavior that could have been addressed through proper support and de-escalation. The investigation also found problems with how the district conducted threat assessments (a process to identify, evaluate and respond to potential school security concerns). When these assessments involved students with disabilities, the district systematically failed to consider the relationship between a student’s disability and their behavior, and whether appropriate support for the student would address the behavior that prompted the assessment. Instead, the district often unnecessarily referred students to law enforcement to be arrested or to start the process for an involuntary admission into a mental health facility under Florida’s Baker Act. 

The agreement requires the district to end discriminatory practices under which students lost hours of classroom time, were treated unfairly in the threat assessment process, and even faced the prospect of being arrested or sent to a mental health facility against their will. The department will monitor the district’s implementation of the agreement and will also continue to monitor and enforce an ongoing desegregation order that covers the district.

“As we mark the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, we remain committed to disrupting the school to prison pipeline and ensuring that the doors of academic opportunity are open to all,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Too often schools rely on suspensions and law enforcement to address disability-related behaviors of students, without considering what they can do to help those students stay in and succeed at school. Equal participation in schools for students with disabilities means providing those students with the services and interventions they need to succeed. This agreement is part of our ongoing efforts across the country to combat practices that push students out of the classroom.”

“Each and every child deserves an equal opportunity to learn and thrive,” said U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg for the Middle District of Florida. “Our office, in partnership with the department’s Civil Rights Division, will vigorously investigate and enforce the protections of the ADA to end discrimination on the basis of disability in all settings, including in our public schools. I am heartened by the district’s commitment to this significant agreement, which will undoubtedly improve the education and everyday lives of students with disabilities in our community.”

The district cooperated with the department throughout the investigation and has committed to improving its services for students with disabilities. Among other actions, under the agreement, the district will:

  • Ensure that district personnel accurately assess disability-related behaviors, identify appropriate interventions for those behaviors and monitor the implementation of those interventions;
  • Hire a consultant with expertise in behavior interventions who will assist in updating its policies and practices;
  • Update its student code of conduct, threat assessment process and process for calling law enforcement to ensure that the district is adequately considering disability-related behaviors and modifying its policies and procedures to avoid discrimination based on disability;
  • Develop appropriate trainings to help schools implement the agreement and respond appropriately to student behavior and
  • Improve data collection and analysis systems and regularly evaluate data to ensure students with disabilities are not excluded from school for disability-related behaviors through the district’s discipline, threat assessment and law enforcement referral practices.

The enforcement of Title II of the ADA is a top priority of the Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at justice.gov/crt, and additional information about the work of the Educational Opportunities Section is available at justice.gov/crt/educational-opportunities-section. Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations at civilrights.justice.gov/report.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida worked in collaboration with the Civil Rights Division’s Educational Opportunities Section to investigate this case. Information about the Civil Rights Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and a complaint form for the unit can be found at justice.gov/usao-mdfl/civil-rights.

View the department’s letter to the district here. 

View the settlement agreement here.

View settlement agreement summary here.

News source: justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-secures-agreement-florida-school-district-protect-civil-rights-students

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