Saturday, October 13, 2001

Felix compliance
process questioned

By Crystal Kua

A Hawaii health advocacy organization is accusing the Department of Education of trying to rig the process for determining whether schools on Maui are in compliance with the Felix consent decree.

The 1,400-member Hawaii Coalition for Health said in a letter to the federal court special master overseeing consent decree compliance that it is concerned service testing scheduled to be done on Maui next week is tainted.

The group isn't satisfied with an investigation by the Felix court monitor into its complaint. "The service testing is still suspect since no independent investigation has taken place," said Dr. Arleen Jouxson-Meyers, coalition president.

But Felix court monitor Ivor Groves said the coalition's concerns stem from confusion between two different reviews.

First, there's the service testing he does to officially determine whether a complex of schools passes the federal court's compliance requirements. The coalition believes this is the process being compromised on Maui.

Second, there's an informal, internal review schools conduct to improve their response to providing services to special needs students. This is the process that Groves said was being discussed during a meeting that parent Michael Leone, whose complaint sparked the coalition letter, sat in on. Groves said he doesn't use that internal review to pass a group of schools.

"It's a separate process," Groves told the Star-Bulletin.

The coalition letter demands that the Department of Education be excluded from participating in Maui County's service testing.

Groves said the meeting Leone sat in on was for internal testing that was also scheduled for September and October.

Meanwhile, Maui High School complex is scheduled for service testing supervised by Groves on Oct. 15-18.

"Having the internal review scheduled so close to the service testing obviously has created confusion and misinformation," Groves said.

Groves said the internal service testing was canceled to avoid further confusion.

In his report, Groves also said service testing of Maui schools in October will go on as planned with precautions put in place.

"My office also has already arranged for more independent expert reviewers to assure the process is not compromised in any way," Groves wrote in a letter to coalition Executive Director Larry Geller.

Questioning the integrity of the official service testing comes when the state needs to have two-thirds of school complexes in provisional compliance -- which means they must pass service testing -- by Nov. 1 or face having a federal judge appoint a receiver to take control of the special education system.

The goal of the consent decree -- named for the special-needs child who sued the state -- is to get the state in compliance with federal law by improving the delivery of educational and mental health services to special-needs children.

Six of the eight school complexes -- high schools and their feeder schools -- scheduled for service testing in September and October need to pass service testing to avoid federal receivership. Three complexes, Kahuku, Mililani and Waialua, so far have passed.

The coalition's complaint was based on the observations of Leone, who sat in on an Aug. 21 meeting, of what he believed was a prep session for Department of Education service testers. Leone, a parent of a special needs child and co-chairman of the Maui Community Children's Council, has attended other service testing meetings previously. "The idea of service testing is good, but the process is flawed," Leone said.

Leone sent an e-mail within hours after the meeting, writing that during the meeting he heard details of how the next Maui service testing was going to be "rigged to pass no matter what," according to the e-mail.

Coalition Director Geller said he spoke to Leone in preparation of writing the coalition's letter to Felix special master Jeff Portnoy.

The coalition's Sept. 5 letter sets out some of the allegations that Leone reported and the DOE responded with its Sept. 20 letter. The coalition's allegations and the DOE's response include:

>> Service testing teams were allegedly advised to fix the files and arrange for missing services before final service testing. The DOE said teams were told that it is appropriate to arrange files to assist in accessing information necessary for service testing. Teams were also told to take appropriate action if it was determined that services or timeline were not being met, but were specifically told not to alter material in the files.

>> Team members were allegedly instructed to pick student cases they feel will be easy since this testing was important and Maui must pass. The DOE said teams were told that there were multiple strategies to choosing the sample for internal review.

>> Teams were admonished of the importance of passing the testing and that they must present everything with a positive twist. The DOE said teams were told that it is important to provide interviewers with an accurate picture of the student and system in place to support the student.

"The report suggests that the service testing Maui County officials are planning to conduct will not provide the data required by the court's order," Jouxson-Meyers said.

But state schools chief Paul LeMahieu said there are checks and balances in service testing.

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