Federal agency is looking into discrimination complaint against the Beaverton School District.

A Cedar Hills family claims their son — and potentially thousands of students like him across Beaverton — have been cheated out of many days’ worth of instructional time because his special education program sent students to the bus five to 10 minutes earlier every day than other kids.

“These kids are entitled to a full day of school,” said Louis Feldman, who helped file a federal complaint on his now 10-year-old son’s behalf against the Beaverton School District. “They’re breaking the law.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights agreed in August to investigate the Feldmans’ claims that the district discriminated against his child and other students with disabilities in violation of federal laws, including provisions of the Americans With Disabilities.

Feldman, the parent of two sons on the autism spectrum who also volunteers as an advocate for people with disabilities, personally documented early release times at multiple Beaverton schools last spring as evidence in the complaint.

Together he and his wife, as well as two attorneys and another man acquainted with the lead attorney, signed affidavits stating they witnessed special education buses leaving 24 schools across the district before the official day ended. The campuses they observed included 17 elementary, three middle and four high schools.

Many of those releases — of students in self-contained special education classrooms — were routinely five to 10 minutes ahead of the general education students, adding up to 15 to 30 hours of lost instructional time in a year, according to the complaint. A few of the releases witnessed at high schools were far earlier, including departures a full 20 minutes before other students finished their last classes, according to the affidavits.

“Those are just the random days that we were able to check,” said attorney Diane Wiscarson, who is representing the Feldmans.

The complainants aren’t seeking a monetary settlement, but hope the federal agency will force Beaverton into providing equal learning time to children in special education classrooms and to make up the instructional time already lost.

Wiscarson said the last time she filed a complaint with the same agency, it took 12 to 16 months to reach resolution, but she said it’s possible this case could be resolved sooner. Resolution potentially could take the form of a voluntary agreement reached between the Office for Civil Rights and the district.

District spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler said that, given the open case, the district could only issue the following statement: “The complaint is under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights. We are responding to the Office of Civil Rights request for information and documents. We will not be able to comment on this case while it is under investigation.”

Wiscarson and Louis Feldman said they spoke with district administrators informally about the early releases and were promised the practice would be fixed, but they said their investigation last spring proved otherwise.

Feldman believes the special education students are denied equal class time far beyond Beaverton schools.

“This is a national problem. This is not just an Oregon problem,” he said.

“Beaverton is the only district for which I collected evidence, but I believe it’s a pretty widespread practice,” Wiscarson added.

Wiscarson, whose practice specializes in representing people with disabilities, said she is handling this case without compensation.

“We simply want these kids not to be discriminated (against),” she said. “It’s the right thing to do, so I’m doing it.”

Both Wiscarson and Feldman acknowledged that some children with disabilities are better served by an early release, including those who might not be able to tolerate the large crowds and noise generated by hundreds of children leaving school at once. But they said that under the law, individual accommodations must be made for such students without shorting the rest of class time.

For Feldman, who said both of his sons are socially engaged, early releases not only reduce instructional time but also deprive them the opportunity to mingle with typical peers from general education classrooms, which can be valuable developmentally, he said.

Feldman said change may already be in the wind.

In the days after Oregon Public Broadcasting, a Pamplin Media Group news partner, first reported about the complaint, Feldman conducted observations at three district schools. In each recent case, special education students were not escorted to buses until the school day ended, he said.

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