FDOE: Sarasota County School District falsified records and wrongfully placed numerous students in special needs program

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This article was published on WWSB by Jessika Ward on December 9, 2020.

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) – On Tuesday, Dec. 8, the Florida Department of Education released results of a 2019 investigation that was conducted by FDOH’s Office of Inspector General and revealed the Sarasota County School District falsified records and wrongfully placed several students in special needs programs.

“To date, I am not convinced that the District is consistently acting with students’ interests at the forefront,” said Richard Corcoran, the Commissioner of Education of the Florida Department of Education, in a letter addressed to the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Brennan Asplen, and Shirley Brown, the Chair of the Sarasota County School Board.

At the request of Corcoran, the FDOE Office of the Inspector General opened a preliminary investigation to review the Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Services provided by the district to determine if the district wrongly placed students in ESE classes to avoid state testing.

“While the investigation found insufficient evidence to conclude that the District placed students on the alternate assessment to avoid state testing or accountability in order to benefit financially, the investigation’s findings and the continued public actions of the District demonstrate that all necessary changes in practice and culture have not occurred within Sarasota County School District,” wrote Corcoran.

The Sarasota County School District’s ESE Department provides support and special education services to students with disabilities. The District serves over 7,000 students with disabilities, ages three through twenty-one in over 40 schools.

“The investigators found that 27 of 66 sampled student files either showed the students were improperly placed or contained insufficient documentation to demonstrate that the student was placed correctly,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran continued on to say, “I am ordering my staff to commence regular on-site monitoring of Sarasota County School District’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Services.”

Corcoran wants the District to move forward by embracing a student-centered vision.

“Florida’s school districts should have long since moved on from forcing families of students with special needs to take their claims to court and choosing to pay off a student in a stubborn effort to avoid simply serving the student appropriately,” said Corcoran.