About 300 students with emotional disturbances in Louisiana's East Baton Rouge Parish school district will begin getting the services they need under an agreement that resolves an administrative complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Southern Disability Law Center and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana.
"The children affected are those who are most likely to end up in the criminal justice system without the education services they are entitled to," said Center attorney Courtney Bowie.
The complaint against the East Baton Rouge Public School System, Louisiana's second largest school district, was part of the Center's campaign to reform the state's special-education programs. Last year, the Center won a similar agreement for students in Jefferson Parish.
East Baton Rouge officials agreed to a number of significant improvements, including the hiring of a nationally recognized expert on "positive behavior intervention and support" (PBIS). The expert, who must be approved by the Center and will be retained for about two years, will develop and implement PBIS training programs for all 23 schools where there are emotionally disturbed (ED) students. Training will be provided to all staffers at the schools, including the bus drivers who transport the students.
Bowie said that the PBIS training initiative is intended to enhance the skills of all employees at these schools and thereby dramatically reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions of students with and without disabilities. The PBIS training initiative should benefit thousands of students at these schools, she said.
"By agreeing to implement the PBIS training initiative on such a systemic school-wide basis, East Baton Rouge has manifested a genuine commitment to PBIS," Bowie said.
The PBIS expert and the school system will work together to develop and implement strategies for reducing the number of long-term suspensions and expulsions of ED students. They will also work to increase ED students' placement in regular classrooms.
East Baton Rouge will assess all ED students this year and, beginning next school year, will provide access to intensive reading and math remediation to those who are at least two grades behind.
The agreement also ensures that ED students get proper educational services, required by federal law, even after suspension, and it provides for development of a procedural handbook that explains disciplinary protections due to students with disabilities.
East Baton Rouge will also provide significant levels of compensatory education, such as one-on-one tutoring for each of the three individual class representatives who brought the administrative complaint.