TUSD Feds Probe: Former Special Needs student speaks out against the District

TUSD Feds Probe: Former Special Needs student speaks out against the District

CREATED Sep. 9, 2012

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- A face and a voice to a problem that prompted a Federal investigation at the Tucson Unified School District. For the first time, we hear from one of 14 students, whose civil rights were violated.

Carter Smith graduated high school in TUSD back in 2010. Since first grade, he was part of the special needs program because of a handful of learning disabilities, including dyslexia and ADHD.

He said he was appalled at the way the district handled his disabilities so he had filed a complaint with the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights citing TUSD's failure to follow federal law.  The now University of Arizona student KGUN9 that he decided to step forward with his story because he wants to send a message to the district.

Faced with intense academic demands in high school, Smith said he struggled to stay on task because of his learning disabilities. "I was supposed to read a lot more than I ever had to read before. I was supposed to do math assignments that were supposed to turn around a lot faster."

He and his mother, Dr. Mae Smith, identified specific materials and services that they say could have helped him reach his goals. "We never asked for anything for my son that was not a part of a 504 or an IEP plan. By Federal law they were supposed to provide these services. In the 12 years that we were in the system, (Special Education Department staff) never fulfilled that obligation," said Dr. Smith.

Smith: "Every time I'd step in with Special Ed, it felt like, Alright, how can we pretend to help you. They say, Okay we can do this, but actually never have it happen."
Cavazos: "They actually said to you we will do this and just did not follow through?"
Smith: Absolutely. Every meeting it was either we will do this or no that is not our job."

Smith managed to graduate, he said, in spite of the Special Needs Department. 'This sends a message to everyone with a disability that we understand that yes, you have a right to this, but we don't care enough about you to give it to you.'
He said it's the District's apathetic attitude toward special needs students that needs to change. "I want TUSD to understand that not only is this not okay. That not only is this wrong. This is in every way. This is an insult to all of what education is supposed to stand for. This takes the fundamental idea that every person in this country is entitled to a free and equal education and destroys that," said Smith.

KGUN9 reached out to Superintendent Dr. John Pedicone on September 5th. KGUN9 wanted to know how the district handled the 14 special needs cases. 'In every case, the district did what was right with those students either at the time it had no findings or concerns or later if there was a concern it was taken care of," said Pedicone.

Pedicone said the employees who violated policies no longer work for the district or have had consultations to make sure the violations do not happen again. KGUN9 has spoken to the parents in 3 of the 14 cases. They said the district did not resolve their issues.

KGUN9 will continue to investigate these cases.