The education services provided at the Leflore County Juvenile Detention Center are on the right track, according to an official from the Mississippi Department of Education.
Mike Kent said that’s not just his impression but the feedback state and local education officials have received from the U.S. Justice Department, which has previously been critical of how the facility’s young offenders, especially those in need of special education, have been handled.
Kent, who provides assistance to school districts that are consolidating, was on hand for a meeting Wednesday between Justice Department officials and Dr. Mary Brown, superintendent of the Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District. Also present were other school district administrators and representatives from the detention center.
The day before, the Justice Department officials toured the facility, which is across the street from the Leflore County Courthouse.
The point of Wednesday’s meeting was to hear from Brown how the consolidated school district will provide the legally required educational services at the detention center once the responsibility is transferred from the Leflore County School District to the new district that merges the county and Greenwood schools.
The consolidation will take effect July 1.
The Justice Department officials sounded pleased with what they saw and heard, Kent said. “You’re never perfect, but they were nonetheless complimentary of the progress made there,” he said.
“They left us with very few suggestions for improvement. I thought it was very positive.”
The Justice Department has raised concerns about the operation of the detention center since 2009. In 2016, the federal agency issued a report finding that the detention center was not providing adequate special education services to detainees who qualified for them.
According to the report, the Mississippi Department of Education, which assumed responsibility for educational services at the detention center when the state took over the county school district in 2013, had violated the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act in three ways:
nFailing to locate and evaluate special needs detainees with disabilities.
nFailing to obtain students’ Individualized Education Plans from their original schools. IEPs establish benchmarks for special education students to meet to monitor their progress.
nDepriving students with disabilities from a free, appropriate public education.
Kent said those issues have since been addressed, although the Justice Department did note some problems remain with implementing IEPs at the detention center that were developed elsewhere. Kent said this is a problem for all schools and is not exclusive to the detention center.
“If you get a new student, the implementation of an IEP that was written somewhere else, oftentimes it’s difficult to interpret what that IEP is, what exactly they meant with some of the language. It’s often a challenge to implement with fidelity,” Kent said.
Still, the school district has plans to address those IEP deficiencies, he said.
Brown could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Kent was able to explain the district’s plan, which includes hiring more certified special education teachers for the detention center and “ramping up the protocols” to ensure teachers help students meet the guidelines of their IEPs.
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