Officials inspect troubled school
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Friday, May 16, 2008
5/16/08 at 2:08 AM
A team reviews special education records at Tulsa Academic Center.
State education officials conducted an impromptu inspection Thursday of special education student records at the troubled Tulsa Academic Center.
State Superintendent Sandy Garrett said her team was checking the records, interviewing staff members and students' parents, and shadowing special education students to see whether the school has complied with federal laws during 2007-08.
"Our job at the Department of Education is to be an agent of the federal government in this case and make certain that all schools comply with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act," Garrett said.
"In a compliance audit such as this, we would be checking to make certain every students' Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is up to date and followed to the T."
The Education Department will report the results of its compliance audit on its Web site in about 30 days.
Garrett had invited the Tulsa World to observe the audit process, and a Tulsa Public Schools spokeswoman, Tami Marler, had given clearance for a reporter to accompany the state Department of Education employees.
But Cheryl Henry, an interim administrator at Tulsa Academic Center, 2740 E. 41st St. North, asked the reporter to leave the site.
Henry called administrators at Tulsa's Education Service Center to verify that Marler had given clearance to the reporter.
She eventually said that Chief Academic Officer Mary Guinn had instructed her to say, "Because of confidential student records, we cannot allow you to be a part of any interviews that are conducted today."
Misty Kimbrough, the assistant state superintendent for special education services, said a compliance audit can be triggered by student, parent or school employee complaints to the state or by media reports.
For the Tulsa Academic Center, it was a combination of those, she said.
The Tulsa World published a series of stories documenting teacher, parent and student accounts of crowding and frequent violence at the Tulsa Academic Center, which Superintendent Michael Zolkoski founded in August.
In one of those initial reports, Rick Palazzo, the school district's director of alternative programs, confirmed claims by several teachers that they had no access to special education students' IEPs, which contain critical information about each student's unique needs.
He said then that schools throughout the Tulsa district had failed to send IEPs when they referred special education students to the Tulsa Academic Center, but that he and other administrators would be working to rectify the situation.
Disability rights advocates with the Oklahoma Disability Law Center in Oklahoma City have been investigating special education services at the Tulsa Academic Center since the Tulsa World's reports began appearing in mid-March.
The Oklahoma Disability Law Center is a federally funded protection and advocacy agency and an affiliate of the National Disability Rights Network.
Kayla Bower, the Oklahoma Disability Law Center's attorney and executive director, has said that parents of students at Tulsa Academic Center had been in contact with the agency and that it was concerned by reports of a lack of "positive behavioral interventions" at the school, allegations of abuse or neglect, failure to use students' IEPs and a lack of services or appropriate evaluations.
Andrea Eger 581-8470