Audit says Kentucky district excessively imposed discipline on special education students

Sept. 6, 2018
State officials say the deficiencies have persuaded them to continue their management of the Breathitt County district

An audit has found that a Kentucky school district inappropriately disciplined special education students with mild mental disabilities, excessively removing them from classrooms or suspending them from school grounds, but recording that they were voluntarily absent.

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the finding are part of the reason that the Breathitt County district will continue to be managed by the state for at least one more year.

Breathitt County has made “notable gains” in six years under state management but is not ready to operate on its own, Interim Kentucky Commissioner Wayne Lewis has concluded.

On Wednesday, the Kentucky Board of Education voted to keep the school district in Eastern Kentucky under state management where it has been since 2012. 

“We have no desire as a department to manage school districts,” said Lewis, “ You don’t want to pull out until the district has the capacity to stand on its own two feet.”

In an Aug. 3 letter to Breathitt Superintendent Phillip Watts, Lewis said the findings of two audits revealed a pattern of a “significant lack of efficiency and effectiveness.”

The special education management audit found significant violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Under the act, district officials have to take a student’s disability into account when disciplining them. But in Breathitt, that often didn’t happen and school officials avoided having required meetings in which they had to justify suspending special education students, auditors said.

The district failed to document why special classes, separate schooling, or other removals of children with disabilities from the regular education environment were necessary.

In addition to issues over suspending students with mild mental disabilities, that audit found that Breathitt County staff did not have the training to deal with students with behavior problems. District officials and staff were not widely using the behavior-management system recommended by Congress, the report said.

District administrators reported that principals lack understanding of discipline for students with disabilities and use automatic suspensions, the report said. One school principal said that discipline was the same for disabled students as it was for other students. Bus drivers told auditors they needed to know more about the disabilities of the students they drove.

During the 2015-16 school year, three students with disabilities had out-of-school removals or suspensions for greater than 10 days. During the 2016-17 school year, three students with disabilities had out-of-school removals for greater than 10 days. That number included one student who received 63.5 days of out-of-school suspension, the report said.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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