Webinar Archive: Using State Complaints for Systemic Advocacy on Behalf of Students with Disabilities

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Conducted May 21, 2009


This is the age of shrinking resources and seemingly systemwide noncompliance with the IDEA. Even though States (SEAs) are responsible for monitoring local school districts (LEAs), they sometimes fall down on the job, leaving it up to parents to “police” implementation of the IDEA.

This presentation explores how to use the State Administrative Complaint (SAC) process to address noncompliance issues. Topics covered include how to set up a systemic SAC, including using available statistics to establish a systemwide IDEA compliance problem, such as: overuse of suspension or low graduation rates for students of color, lack of progress on Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measures, excessive referrals to courts. Successful systemic school district-wide SACs are provided as models. It also explores how to file a SAC against the SEA itself when it fails to adequately address a Complaint, or when it is failing in its duty to effectively monitor a particular school district. Possible remedies for systemwide violations are addressed -- particularly systemwide PBIS – as well as effective follow-up strategies to ensure that any favorable decision or settlement agreement is being implemented appropriately. Issues related to district implementation of Response-to-Intervention and district use of IDEA federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) are also addressed.


Jim Comstock-Galagan is Executive Director of the Southern Disability Law Center (SDLC). Established in June 2001 by Comstock-Galagan, the SDLC is a non-profit corporation founded to protect and advance the legal rights of people with disabilities throughout the South. SDLC partners with Protection and Advocacy (P&A) systems, Legal Service Corporation (LSC) programs, the Southern Poverty Law Center and disability organizations in the Southern United States on major disability rights issues and cases.

Comstock-Galagan has 31 years of legal experience, including 20 years of P&A work. From 1981 - 1989, he worked for the Louisiana P&A program, initially as a staff attorney and later as Director of Legal Services. From 1989-2001 he served as the Executive Director of Advocacy, Inc. the Texas P&A program. He has extensive litigation experience in IDEA, ADA, Section 504 of the Rehab Act and Juvenile Justice issues. He also has significant legislative advocacy experience. The past several years he has partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center in filing and pursuing several systemic State Complaints in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. All four of the complaints pursued in Louisiana have resulted in systemic Settlement Agreements. Three of these agreements require the implementation of district-wide PBIS.

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