The New Mexico Public Education Department released an annual report which states Española School District was 100 percent compliant with federal special education law, despite the District receiving multiple citations from the Department for violations during the 2018-2019 school year.

District Student Services and Wellness Director Deirdra Montoya presented the results of Española’s Annual Determination Report at the Jan. 15 Española School Board meeting.

“I’m very happy to report that EPS is in 100 percent compliance,” she said.

Determination reports are conducted annually at every district and school in the state, and determine whether a district complies with 17 “indicators” that ensure students with special needs are receiving the proper services.

Three indicators — transition services, programs for preschoolers and that deadlines for Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings are met — must have 100 percent compliance from the District.

The District received 100 percent compliance in all these categories, even though it received citations from the state for multiple violations.

During the spring 2019 semester, the Department cited the District four different times for various violations of federal special education law. Each complaint was accompanied with a corrective action plan for the District to fix the issue.

For example, federal law states that districts have 60 days to evaluate a student for potential disabilities once a parent has given permission. An evaluation is needed to determine what services a student requires.

On July 12, the Department issued its findings on a complaint filed by a parent from San Juan Elementary and found the District violated four specific federal special education laws, including the requirement to evaluate the student within 60 days.

In fact, the school failed to perform three different evaluations on the student within the specified timeline.

“The school states that its reason for not conducting the evaluation within 60 days of the request was that the parent did not timely return questionnaires the school deemed necessary to perform evaluations,” the Department stated.

Department Special Education Bureau Deputy Director Timothy Crum said a failure to adhere to the 60-day deadline means students can “lose precious time.”

“Time is very, very critical in the education of students with disabilities,” he said.

The District also received multiple findings that it was not implementing students’ IEPs and in one case not implementing a student’s behavioral intervention plan, which dictates how staff address behavioral issues with a student.

Montoya said that during Determination Reports the Department will ask the District to send a random sample of IEPs for evaluation.

However, the Department does not evaluate if those plans are implemented correctly, she said.

Crum said it is possible for districts to receive 100 percent compliance scores even if there are findings, because of a policy known as “substantial compliance.”

A 2008 memo from the federal Office of Special Education Programs states that districts are substantially compliant if they score at least 95 percent in one area.

Crum said it is then at the discretion of the state special education director to decide if the District is 100 percent compliant.

“They’re still not compliant with that indicator, but they won’t feel a punitive component to it,” he said.

He said in these instances, the number of citations is not statistically significant.

Districts receive a profile on their special education program every year, which are reported to the federal government. It includes statistics on graduation rates, suspensions and higher education opportunities for special education students.

However, the most recent district profiles are from the 2016-2017 school year—two years behind where it should be.

Crum would not say if the profiles were late, but said the data from the following two years are still being evaluated.

“It normally doesn’t take a couple of years,” he said.

The District also received findings in the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, which do not impact the most recent report, for failing to provide transition services that teach students how to cook, do laundry and gain basic skills to survive on their own.

Board Member Jeremy Maestas asked Montoya about a December article in the Rio Grande SUN about the lack of transition services provided to students. The article included statements from parents who had filed complaints against the District. Montoya said she was aware of the article, but chose not to read it.

“I don’t want to be influenced in a negative manner, because I do have a good working relationship with the parents, and I don’t want to jeopardize that,” she said.

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