Complaints resolved against Guilford, Vance schools

Resolution of complaints against Guilford, Vance school systems means better services for incarcerated students with disabilities

RALEIGH—Legal Aid of North Carolina's systemic state complaints against Guilford County Schools and Vance County Schools have been resolved. The complaints, filed on May 29 with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, allege that the school systems violated federal and state law by failing to provide special-education services to minor students with disabilities while they were incarcerated in adult jails.

Legal Aid of North Carolina’s education-justice unit, Advocates for Children’s Services, filed the complaints on behalf of three high school students—two in Guilford County and one in Vance County—who allege that they received no educational services whatsoever while they were incarcerated.

The Guilford County complaint was resolved via confidential agreement with Guilford County Schools. The Vance County complaint was resolved via an investigation by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. More information, including links to documents, follows. 

Guilford County

Legal Aid was pleased with the opportunity to work with Guilford County Schools (GCS) to advance policies and procedures, some of which were already underway by the district, that will enable GCS to improve services for incarcerated students with disabilities by:

  • Reviewing and revising current procedures to require that all GCS students with disabilities incarcerated in any Guilford County jail receive appropriate special educational services;
  • Designating an employee to be responsible for ensuring legally compliant special educational services for students incarcerated in local jails for more than ten school days as well as continuity of educational services when the students exit from local jails;
  • Training special education staff regarding appropriate special educational services for incarcerated students; and
  • Conducting an internal audit for the 2019-2020 school year to determine whether special education services and related safeguards were properly afforded to GCS students with disabilities who were incarcerated in local jails for more than 10 school days and had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) during incarceration.

Moving forward, it is the hope and desire of both GCS and Legal Aid to continue to look for opportunities to collaborate for the benefit and support of incarcerated students with disabilities.

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Vance County

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s investigation into our complaint uncovered widespread violations of the rights of incarcerated students with disabilities in Vance County Schools (VCS). The department has mandated VCS to follow a corrective action plan, which includes:

  • Various trainings for staff, not only regarding incarcerated students but also various general procedural requirements for students with disabilities;
  • Development of procedures to serve students incarcerated in the local jail;
  • Compensatory education for the named student in the complaint; and
  • Identification of eligible students who were incarcerated without services with the named complainant for the purposes of providing them with compensatory education.

A parent involved with the VCS complaint stated, “I’m grateful that this situation got resolved. I’m glad that the decision will help my son to get the skills he needs to be a productive citizen, and I’m just as glad that it will help other kids in his situation to do the same.”

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Tessa Hale, lead attorney for the cases, expressed satisfaction with outcomes in both counties, stating, “As the country turns its gaze towards the criminal justice system, we must confront every way in which our youth get funneled into the system without hope of making a successful exit. Providing them with the education they are legally entitled to is a positive step towards making sure that incarceration does not become a dead end for students.”

The resolution of these complaints comes at a time when the population of youth incarcerated in adult jails has shrunk significantly. As a result of a new state law which went into effect on August 1, 2020, no more minors will be held in adult jail. Still, because the right to special education continues for students who are 18 to 21 and have not yet graduated, both the developments in GCS and VCS will help ensure that eligible incarcerated students at all stages receive the special education services they are entitled to. Further, some students who may be identified through audits and who were improperly served before the law was passed will now be entitled to remedies.

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About

Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Legal Aid's Advocates for Children's Services project seeks to end North Carolina's school-to-prison pipeline by defending the rights of low-income children in public schools.

Media Contact

Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations, 919-856-2132, seand@legalaidnc.org