Iowa education agency: Juvenile home violated law

DES MOINES – The Iowa Department of Education has found that the state-run Iowa Juvenile Home violated federal law when it denied youths educational services and transition planning to help them succeed in life.

The Education Department issued its ruling Friday following an investigation into a complaint filed by the nonprofit group Disability Rights Iowa, The Des Moines Register reported Saturday.

The Iowa Department of Human Services, which runs the home, argued that any violations stemmed from well-intentioned efforts to serve youths with serious behavioral problems at the home.

In his ruling, the Education Department’s Thomas Mayes rejected that argument, stating that although DHS appeared to have had the best interests of the youth in mind, good intentions “are not a substitute for compliance” with federal law.

Department of Human Services spokeswoman Amy Lorentzen McCoy said the agency is reviewing the ruling.

“At DHS, we put a high value on education and understand it is a critical component of success for the children we serve,” McCoy said.

Mayes’ ruling verified, among other things, that the home had written up education and behavior-intervention plans that used the same “cut-and-paste” boilerplate language for each youth, instead of individualized plans required by law.

Mayes also said that juvenile home staff used schooling as a reward for good behavior and that the home offered nothing in the way of intensive educational supports for those who might need it and no enriched academic content for the more capable students.

The home also failed to provide the minimum level of transition services to prepare youths for college, independent living and employment, the ruling said. Fewer than 40 percent of the youths’ individualized education plans met the minimum legal standard for transition services, Mayes found.

Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, said her organization is pleased with the ruling.

“Remedies are being put in place that will help develop quality education programs for these students that are critical to their success as adults,” she said.

Gov. Terry Branstad announced earlier this month that state officials will close the facility by Jan. 16, relocate the children and lay off the staff of 93 employees. Branstad has become more vocal about the home over the year, and said children in the facility had been “abused” by state workers.