DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — The Ohio Department of Education concluded its investigation into alleged violations of special education law by the Warren County Educational Services Center and dozens of local school districts.

Disability Rights Ohio filed complaints with ODE back in 2021 on behalf of two students, and a systemic complaint, which was filed on behalf of all students. Kristin Hildebrant is the Senior Attorney at DRO.

“We had known that there were some patterns of problems for students who were receiving services at the ESC. And we’ve also had people who are advocates for children contact us with concerns about the Educational Service Center,” Hildebrant said.

Several districts in our area were part of the complaint, including Centerville, Dayton, Franklin, Kettering, Miamisburg, Springboro, Vandalia-Butler, and Xenia. These districts send students to the Warren County ESC, but they are ultimately responsible for the students’ education.

The complaint alleges there was a lack of adequate individualized education programs, or IEPs, that meet students’ specific needs, and failure to implement those IEPs. The complaint also alleges students were not being properly evaluated before placing them at the ESC, staff at the ESC are not appropriately trained or licensed, and there was a lack of academic instruction.

“All kids are different, and one of the core components of special education is that we individualize the services to the specific needs created by that child’s disability. And all disabilities are different. So if it’s one size fits all, it doesn’t work,” Hildebrant said.

2 News reached out to the districts for a comment. Kevin Wright, the Supervisor of Special Education Services for Kettering Schools, said quote:

“We acknowledge that there were violations identified through the complaint filed with the Ohio Department of Education regarding students with disabilities who are served through the Warren County Educational Service Center. We will continue to monitor our Kettering students who are attending the Warren County ESC schools to ensure that, working together with the ESC, we are providing effective, academic, social, emotional and behavioral health services to all students.”

Kevin Wright, the Supervisor of Special Education Services

At Xenia Community Schools, there is only one student who attends the Warren County ESC. A spokesperson said quote:

As always, our top priority is the student and family involved, who have indicated to our staff that they do not have any concerns about the educational services their child receives.

The parents are fully aware that Xenia is prepared to make every accommodation and provide the best educational opportunity for this student in the event that they are medically able to return home. Unfortunately, that is simply not the situation for this child at this time.

The district has filed the appropriate paperwork for the student with ODE throughout the student’s time at the long-term care facility, and has had no previous indication from ODE that there were any concerns with the educational services for the student.

On this basis, the district has filed an appeal of the complaint, but still plans to move forward with compliance of all actions in order to ensure the best-possible outcome for all Xenia students.

Compliance for the district in this case may include training for Special Education staff, as well as revised processes for reviewing and filing paperwork. The district has also requested that ODE clarify both the outcome they are seeking in this specific case, as well as the process they would like to see to avoid similar problems in the future.

Spokesperson for Xenia Community Schools

The Ohio Department of Education concluded its investigation in December 2022. The ODE is ordering the ESC to provide progress reports, staff are required to attend professional development on IEPs, districts will need to review and correct IEPs, and students will receive compensatory education for IEP services they did not receive.

“The average hours of all of the children is roughly 50 hours per kid and some kids over 100. So that indicates that these kids weren’t getting what they needed to get according to the law,” Hildebrant said.

Hildebrant said DRO is hopeful these findings will improve services within the ESC and local districts.

“One of the central tenets of the federal law that provides special education rights to kids is a concept of least restrictive environment. And we always want to keep children in their local school districts with their peers that they’re growing up with because they have better outcomes when we do that,” Hildebrant explained.

2 News also reached out to Tom Issacs, the Superintendent of the Warren County ESC. He did not want to go on camera, but provided the following statement:

The Governing Board of the Warren County Educational Service Center (the “ESC”) has been made aware of special education findings and corrective action issued by the Ohio Department of Education to more than forty school districts who utilize our specialized programs.  It is important to emphasize that no abuse or neglect of students was found.  The findings involve paperwork issues that ODE found with student records.  The ESC and school districts dispute most of the findings.  Those we don’t dispute will be promptly corrected.  As for the findings that are in dispute, the ESC has engaged with the Ohio Department of Education leadership to hopefully resolve the matter without litigation.  The ESC will have no further comment on this matter until it is resolved.  

Tom Issacs, Superintendent of Warren County ESC