MDE Special Education Findings

Monday, January 23, 2017

Recently it has been reported that Albert Lea Area School’s Special Education Department had a complaint filed in 2016 with the Minnesota Department of Education.  This complaint was one of 139 filed with the MDE statewide in 2016. Of those filed, 94 received a complaint decision. For the Albert Lea school district, we received a decision on a single complaint that is critical of the process that some IEP teams in the district followed in determining whether a small number of special education students should receive extended school year (ESY) services during the summer months.  The parents and guardians of every special education student in the district (over 400) were informed about this complaint decision in December by the school district.

Although the district recognizes the benefits of continuous improvement and welcomes opportunities to evaluate our processes, the district has decided to appeal the MDE’s decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. 

The District is appealing because the MDE did not comply with its legal obligations when investigating the complaint and, significantly, did not obtain input from current staff members.  During the investigation process, the district noted the importance of creating a record of the MDE’s investigation so a reviewing body could determine whether the investigation was conducted properly.  However, when the district asked to record the staff interviews, the MDE refused to interview the staff or have any type of record made of its actions.  The MDE later assured the district that it would consider the staff’s input through written correspondence, but the MDE did not adhere to that assurance.  The MDE’s failure to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, or to make any meaningful attempt to obtain the perspective of current staff members who attended the IEP team meetings, resulted in findings that are inaccurate and a decision that is arbitrary and capricious.  The district believes the MDE’s investigation practices in this case raise serious concerns that warrant close scrutiny by the courts and the legislature.  Additionally, the MDE’s decision in this case contains legal interpretations that contradict the MDE’s legal interpretations in other cases.  

While the appeal moves forward, the District’s Special Education Director, Tami Alphs, will continue working with parents, teachers, and all other members of our special education teams to ensure that the needs of all special education students continue to be met.

If anyone has further questions, they can contact our special education department at 507-379-4822.