Salt Lake City school board members acknowledged Thursday that the school district failed to conduct annual reviews of Individualized Education Plans for some students with special needs, as required by law.
A statement from board members and Superintendent Timothy Gadson III said the number of plans, or IEPs, that were not updated this school year was less than 1% of the 3,000 plans for students in the district.
The statement also said Gadson “acknowledges that he had not made the Board of Education aware of any issues related to the district’s IEP compliance numbers.”
Earlier this week, Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, told The Salt Lake Tribune and KUTV that in some instances, students’ plans had not been reviewed for nearly three years, and that some students have graduated without an IEP review.
While the district’s statement said “the allegations in the media misrepresent how many IEPs are out of compliance,” Williams did not assert a number of students whose plans had been skipped.
And the district’s statement did not address whether any of the students whose plans it did not review were graduating seniors. It also did not specify whether each of the plans that had been neglected this school year were reviewed in the previous year.
But one parent of a second-grader in the district said her child has been waiting for 864 days for an initial IEP evaluation. Ashley Weitz said she formally requested an IEP for her child in January 2020, and despite subsequent communication with the district, said she is still waiting.
The plans “detail the individual goals, services, and supports that each special needs student is entitled to,” according to the board statement.
Board members and Gadson said “the district strives to ensure that all IEPs are reviewed and updated in accordance with state and federal law. ... In striving for 100% compliance, IEP teams are actively working to ensure that this small percentage of IEPs is reviewed before the end of this month.”
The district is also creating “a plan to improve its compliance percentages through not only a system of checks and balances, but also through specific professional development,” they said. “The Board of Education feels confident that the district will be able to see this plan to completion, and that district students will continue to receive the important services to which they are entitled.”
District spokesperson Yándary Chatwin said Monday that, in discussions with the school board since Williams went public with her complaint about IEPs, members said they were surprised to hear it was an issue.
Weitz said after her initial request for her child to be evaluated, the principal of her child’s school told her it had everything it needed to complete the IEP. Then in March 2020, classes were moved online as COVID-19 began to spread in Utah.
Weitz subsequently outlined her child’s need for special accommodations, due to asthma and hemophilia, in a document called a 504 and submitted it to the district, she said. In November 2020, she asked her child’s teacher about the IEP. The teacher agreed that she had noticed some needs with the child’s speech that could be addressed in an IEP, Weitz said.
The teacher told Weitz she tried to ask the district to help create the plan but never heard back, the mother said.
Her child’s speech was eventually evaluated in May 2021. The district decided the child did not qualify for services and claimed Weitz had never requested an IEP, she said. But Shelley Halverson, former director of special education, later apologized and said the request had slipped through the cracks, Weitz said.
Weitz said she filed complaints with the Utah Board of Education and the U.S. Office of Civil Rights after the district declined to assess her child remotely. A specialist had recommended that her child not be around other people after being hospitalized in November 2021, she said.
“I feel like I’ve been patient,” Weitz said. “I get that, logistically, it’s been really hard to figure out a special ed evaluation this whole time. ... It was very frustrating.”
Williams asked the U.S. attorney’s office and the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into alleged discrimination and harassment by the board on June 3. She asserts that the school board has also subjected Gadson, as well as his assistant superintendent and other Black officials in the district, to a hostile work environment.
A board member had received an email alleging that Gadson had taken a trip paid for by private religious college Grand Canyon University — a violation of the district’s ethics policies, if true. But board member Mohamed Baayd said Gadson produced records showing he had paid for the trip himself.
Over the last several weeks, the board held two closed-door meetings, and it went into closed sessions before and after its Tuesday meeting. The agenda for those meetings said they were held to address “character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of an individual; and/or deployment of security personnel, devices, or systems.” No other information was provided.