The Ottumwa Courier

AP Iowa

July 24, 2013

Education complaint against Iowa DHS in the works

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An advocacy group for people with disabilities said Wednesday that it will file a complaint against Iowa's Department of Human Services alleging that children kept in isolation at a state-run home were denied education.

Disability Rights Iowa, a nonprofit funded by the federal government, wants the state to pay the cost of additional schooling or tutoring and related expenses, such as transportation, the Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/13d3oXv ).

The group alleges that children who were living long term in isolation cells at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo were denied individualized instruction and only given worksheets or instructional packets to complete on their own.

That violates a 24-year-old federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act which requires states to ensure that a "free, appropriate public education" is made available to all children with disabilities, according to the group. The law requires instruction to take place in the least restrictive environment possible, said Nathan Kirstein, an investigator with Disability Rights Iowa.

The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the law "contemplates personalized instruction with sufficient support services," he said.

The Toledo home provides housing, treatment and schooling to youths with serious behavioral problems. Disability Rights Iowa said the home has placed children as young as 13 in long-term isolation cells, and that it's investigating the practice.

"We're looking at the persons who spent a significant amount of time in these control rooms — one of them being the girl who spent about a year there," Kirstein said. "They will be used as examples, basically, of what we believe was a common practice of long-term isolation."

Kirstein said the complaint to the Department of Education will hopefully force the state to examine its records and determine how many children were kept in isolation for extended periods.

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