SPS being investigated over concerns about special education instruction during pandemic

SEATTLE — The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights said it is investigating Seattle Public Schools over concerns about special education instruction.

The DOE said it is concerned about reports some students went without specialized instruction and that some teachers weren’t allowed to provide it.

“According to one local news report last spring, the District told its special education teachers ‘not to deliver specially designed instruction,’ and disallowed them from ‘adapt(ing) lessons to each child’s needs,’” wrote Kimberly M. Richey, the education department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights, referencing work by KUOW.

“OCR (Office of Civil Rights) is concerned that the District has failed to provide a ‘free appropriate public education’ to each qualified student with a disability as required by federal law and denied students with disabilities equal access to education.”

Initiating an investigation is not an indication that the district is at fault, district officials and the letter said. “Since the beginning of the pandemic we have followed and will continue to follow the guidance of OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction). Since March, every time state guidance has changed, the district has adjusted,” Tim Robinson, a district spokesperson, wrote in an email. “Seattle Public Schools is aware of the investigation and will fully cooperate with the US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights.”

Seattle is not the only district to face such accusations.

In August, KIRO 7 reported that three families had filed a lawsuit in Thurston County claiming their special education students were not getting the resources needed for instruction.

Those families contended that emergency pandemic rules reduced the number of instructional hours schools must legally provide to students, shifting responsibilities away from qualified paraeducators and onto parents.

Information from The Associate Press was used in this report.