U.S. Dept. of Ed investigating RFSD | PostIndependent.com

U.S. Dept. of Ed investigating RFSD

The Starbuck family poses for a photo Oct. 30
Christopher mullen / Post Independent |

Roaring Fork School District is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for failure to comply with The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, according to a letter submitted to the school board by Matt Starbuck, whose disabled son James was injured on a school bus over the summer.

RFSD Superintendent Diana Sirko confirmed the complaint and the investigation, but declined to associate it with a specific incident, citing privacy laws. She said the department has told the district that merely opening an investigation does not amount to a finding of fault.

Starbuck was not shy about tying the investigation, which he and his wife sought, to the scalp wound James Starbuck suffered when his wheelchair was improperly secured on a extended school year route for special needs kids. James was taken to Valley View Hospital and later released, with RFHS paying for his medical bills, and the bus driver was later fired.

In the aftermath, the Starbucks became increasingly frustrated with the district, which they felt was remiss in both driver training and follow-up.

“RFSD should have provided me with a RFSD Section 504 compliance officer immediately when his I.E.P was violated. This Section 504 Compliance Officer was to act as a liaison for me to help me with the grievance processes as well as the person responsible for investigating the violation,” he wrote. “I was guaranteed these rights, but RFSD has no 504 Compliance officer, and in fact has nobody in district that even knows what Section 504 means and how it is to be implemented.”

According to Starbuck, former Superintendent Judy Haptonstall was still listed as the compliance officer for the district.

Sirko says that was an error of communication, not implementation.

“Roaring Fork School District does have both a compliance officer and a complaint process, but we had failed to make sure that information was clearly communicated on our website and in our Back to School information and/or newsletters, and needed to update our policies to reflect the changes in personnel and the identified complaint officers,” she wrote in her own statement.

The board of education met Dec. 23 to discuss the issue, and ultimately updated the policies. A new “Nondiscrimination Information” tab under “About Us” on the district’s website now directs discrimination complaints to Director of Special Education Katherine Lange and Title VI or Title IX issues to Chief Academic Officer Rob Stein.

According to Sirko, Department of Education is aware of the changes. Furthermore, she reported that a representative from the Office of Civil rights told her that “opening the allegations for investigation in no way implies that they have made a determination with regard to their merit.”

“Really, what they want is a response from us,” Sirko said.

The Starbucks want more than that. Matt Starbuck’s letter requests a formal apology and explanation. It also calls for the board not to renew Sirko’s contract and encourages several members of the board to step down.

“Parents are angry with RFSD in the wake of these violations and behaviors in the aftermath of our son’s accidents and will no longer sit idle,” he wrote. “We have a district that is supposed to protect the needs and rights of the special needs community, not one whom continually violates what little rights these students have. We expect better from every employee and board member of RFSD and will tolerate nothing less than that from here on.”

According to Sirko, the district has already made some policy changes to enhance special needs training and prevent such an occurrence in the future.

“Whenever there’s an accident of any kind, we examine everything about what wrong and what we can do to prevent it from happening again,” she said. “While we don’t have a history of accidents, one is one too many.”

Bus driver Maria Flynn, 58, was fired several weeks after the incident and in September submitted a letter demanding $25,000 from Roaring Fork School District. She admitted the wheelchair was improperly secured, but said her training was inadequate — she was driving that bus for the first time the day the incident occurred.

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