Skip to main content Accessibility

To make Press Center inquiries, email

Advocates Seek Continued Federal Oversight of Special Education in Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS – Last week, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor released a report critical of the Louisiana Department of Education’s (LDOE) oversight of special education services for students with disabilities. The systemic failures highlighted in the report are part of an ongoing consent judgment that stemmed from a federal lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2010 on behalf of students with disabilities denied access to New Orleans’ public schools. 

“NOLA Public Schools has an obligation to serve all students, including those with disabilities. When we entered the consent judgment in 2015, five years after filing our lawsuit, we were hopeful that the state and district were moving in the right direction to ensure our most vulnerable students were not shut out of New Orleans public schools,” said SPLC Senior Staff Attorney Lauren Winkler. “But as the experiences of families affected by these systemic failures show and the auditor’s report confirms, ongoing oversight is sorely needed.”

In October 2020, NOLA PS and the LDOE notified the court that they wanted the court monitoring under the consent judgment to end. SPLC argued that termination would be premature and that more proactive measures were needed to ensure compliance with the rights of students with disabilities. Where families continue to face significant barriers to obtaining special education services for their children in New Orleans’ highly decentralized system, systemic reforms to monitoring and oversight remain necessary. 

The auditor’s report found that LDOE did not conduct desk or on-site reviews for 43 of 100 school systems for at least seven years. Further, the report found that LDOE does not properly select student files to evaluate compliance with all federal and state law requirements. The report also found that LDOE does not follow federal regulations when calculating significant disproportionality relating to discipline and may fail to identify school systems that disproportionately discipline students of color receiving special education services. 

Before LDOE and NOLA PS are released from the consent agreement, the SPLC proposes the following changes: 

●    Enhancing monitoring standards and processes 
●    Ensuring responsive and targeted technical assistance 
●    Empowering families and increasing transparency around school choice and complaint procedures 
●    Enhancing accountability through annual reports that address student outcomes, resources and program quality, and school climate and culture.
●    Providing greater opportunities for parent involvement and public education about special education services 

In March, the Center for Public Research and Leadership released a comprehensive study of the state and local systems and the processes used to serve students with disabilities in New Orleans Public Schools. The report found that monitoring and oversight structures that merely focus on legal compliance are insufficient to ensure that students with disabilities are properly served. The report concluded that performance and outcomes must also be emphasized. 

Another recent legislative audit and a report by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) on Louisiana’s formal complaint system found that parents are unable to address problems with their children’s special education through formal dispute resolution. The COPAA report assessed each state’s formal complaint system based on dismissed or withdrawn complaints, findings of noncompliance, investigative reports with findings versus no findings, and timeliness. Louisiana was the only state in the bottom decile of all four metrics.