Poudre School District destroys records to deny special needs family’s access

From 7NEWS (Denver): FORT COLLINS, Colo. – A CALL7 investigation has found the Poudre School District willfully destroyed records involving a special education student, in an attempt to keep them from his family that has cost taxpayers more than $200,000.

The findings raise serious ethical questions for PSD and raise questions for parents about whether they can trust the district responsible for the education of their children.

– Services “overlooked?”

Nine-year-old Isaac Starr needs a range of special programs and skilled professionals to help him develop.

“He has a variety of disabilities, the primary one would be Autism,” said Isaac’s father, Ephraim. “He’s a very courageous little boy.”

Under federal law, school districts are required to provide programs and professionals through an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. When the Starr family moved to Fort Collins three years ago, Ephraim and his wife, Donna, wanted the Poudre School District to implement elements of Isaac’s existing IEP from his previous school in California.

“We’ve seen what didn’t work and we saw what worked,” Ephraim Starr said. “And there were a number of really important things in that plan that we thought they overlooked or didn’t include.”

But even before the move, Ephraim Starr claims PSD resisted providing the services his son needed. And once Isaac enrolled, his father says the boy started to regress.

“He would throw 45-minute tantrums, things he had done when he was several years younger, that now started resurfacing again,” said Starr. “He wasn’t doing well in school. Things were getting much worse.”

The family’s relationship with school district administration was getting worse, too. The Starrs came to see Sarah Belleau, Director of Integrated Services for PSD and the head of the district’s special education department, as an adversary in getting Isaac the services he needed.

“They weren’t taking into account our points of view as his parents,” said Starr.

– “I do not want this put in writing”

So Starr, who is a corporate lawyer, decided to find out what was happening behind the scenes. On Sunday, March 20, 2011, he emailed a request for Isaac’s education records to the district, then submitted a more formal request the next day under the Colorado Open Records Act. Starr wanted to see all records, including emails and paper files, about his son and his family.

Poudre School District refused to turn over some records, but what the Starrs did eventually get stunned them.

“They were basically telling each other to be sure to delete records,” Starr said.

And not just any records, but those specifically involving his family. Documents obtained by the CALL7 Investigators show the deletion started even before Isaac was enrolled in PSD — and it all emanated from Sarah Belleau.

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