Complaint Charges State with Failing to Provide an Education to Children Residing in Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities

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Raleigh, NC: Today, Disability Rights NC filed a Complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) asking federal officials to investigate the failure of the State of North Carolina to ensure that children placed in private Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTFs) are provided with adequate educational services, including any special education services that children with disabilities are entitled to receive.

Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights NC said, “It is fitting to file this complaint during Children’s Mental Health Week. Serious emotional and mental health disorders in young children and youth are real and treatable and must include education.”

This complaint is the result of an investigation by Disability Rights NC with the assistance of law students from the University of North Carolina School of Law. In January 2012, attorneys from Disability Rights NC, assisted by nearly a dozen law students, conducted extensive interviews with 25 patients at a treatment facility in Charlotte, NC. Although all of these patients had the benefit of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) prior to their admission to the facility, none of them were receiving adequate education services while in treatment. As a result, these children fail to earn academic credit while in treatment, fall behind their non-disabled peers and are more likely to drop out of school after their discharge from the facility.

“The State has known about this problem for years,” said Smith, “yet failed to act.” In July 2008, the General Assembly passed Session Law 2008-174, which directed the State Board of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to “jointly meet and make a determination as to which public agency is responsible for providing special education and related services… for children with disabilities who are placed in private psychiatric residential treatment facilities….”

Smith points out that “nearly four years have passed since the legislature directed these two departments to work together to provide adequate educational services to these children with disabilities. However, no resolution of this problem has been reached.”

The complaint asks OCR to investigate the State’s failure to provide educational services to children with mental and emotional disabilities as constituting violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.