You are on page 1of 13

March 20, 2015

Complaint Filed Against: Harrison Education Center, Minneapolis Public School District
Submitted To: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Educational Opportunities
Section
COMPLAINANTS: One Harrison High Education Center Student, Members of the
University of St. Thomas School of Law Community Justice Project, Black Advocates
for Education
Counsel for Complainants:
Kyle Hahn, Certified Student Attorney
Aleesa Jansick, Certified Student Attorney
Derek Thooft, Certified Student Attorney
Nekima Levy-Pounds, Esq.
The Community Justice Project
The Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services
University of St. Thomas
30 South 10th Street, Minneapolis MN 55403
(651) 962-4960

Summary:
Dear Educational Opportunities Section:
This federal civil rights complaint is being filed with the U.S. Department of Justice,
Civil Rights Division's Educational Opportunities Section, on behalf of one former Harrison
Education Center (Harrison) student whose constitutional rights were violated by the practices
at Harrison Education Center. J.G. is the student identified/discussed in this complaint. J.G. is
representative of the other students subject to the harsh and detrimental practices of Harrison.
Filed by the University of St. Thomas School of Law’s Community Justice Project, this
complaint examines Harrison’s ineffective practices through past events. Harrison carries out a
number of practices that are both harmful to students and also violate their constitutional
rights. This complaint intends to warn the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division's
Educational Opportunities Section, so that action will be taken to address the grievous injuries
produced by Harrison’s educational practices. On behalf of J.G. and other Harrison students, we
respectfully request the Educational Opportunities Section start an investigation of Harrison in
order to ensure that the school will no longer continue to violate the educational, civil, and
1

constitutional rights of its students .
I.)
INTRODUCTION

This complaint focuses on Harrison, designated as Federal Setting IV special education
school, within Minnesota’s Minneapolis Public School District. Harrison has violated rights
guaranteed to disabled students, which has compromised the students’ ability to attain an
adequate public school education. This complaint examines Harrison’s harmful practices and
deficient educational environment through J.G.’s experience, a former Harrison student. By
analyzing J.G.’s story, it is apparent that Harrison’s effective practices have violated his,
as well as others’, civil and procedural rights.
II.)

BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW OF HARRISON EDUCATION CENTER
Harrison is a high school alternative, a s a Federal Setting IV self-contained program.

Harrison was created to serve students between the ages of 14-18 with severe emotional and

2

behavioral needs1. Harrison is the only Setting IV high school in Minnesota’s Minneapolis
Public School District. Each of Harrison’s students have a personal Individualized Education
Plan ("IEP"), designating them as emotionally, behaviorally, or cognitively disabled and
requiring special education. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), IEPs
are necessary for any special education student. IEPs are evaluations that gauge a student’s
current mental, emotional and social abilities so their school can work with them to make sure
their educational needs are met.
Students are sent to Harrison if they are enrolled in special education programs and
have a Level IV IEP evaluation. A student with a Level IV IEP requires more intense special
education unavailable in their current educational setting. Generally, a student’s IEP level will
change after being involved in an incident their teacher, case manager, or principal deem serious
enough to merit further special education. Level IV is the highest IEP setting a student can
receive while still remaining in public school.
Within the Minneapolis Public School District, the only way for a Level IV IEP high
school student to avoid Harrison is to attend school in another district, or have their IEP setting
lowered. Both of these options can pose unique problems for a student body where 95.5% of
the student’s receive free or reduced lunches, suggestive of poverty, a single-parent home, or lack
of other resources.
III.)

COMPLAINANT
J.G. has been enrolled in Harrison. J.G.’s story epitomizes the struggle of attaining an

adequate public school education, faced by him as well as others similarly situated within
Harrison. Thus, J.G. respectfully requests the U.S. Department of Justice investigate
Harrison’s unlawful practices which he and other students have been subjected.
1 harrison.mpls.k12.mn.us/about
3

J.G.’s Story
J.G. is a 16-year-old student currently enrolled in tenth grade at the Minnesota
Internship Center (MNIC), a St. Paul charter school. Before the incident precipitating J.G.’s
enrollment at Harrison, his IEP was at Federal Setting III. In fifth grade, J.G. was designated as
needing special education via an IEP evaluation by the Minneapolis Public School District.
J.G. is unaware of the underlying rationale for his IEP evaluation results, but he suspects that it
is a learning disability-related issue. Nevertheless, J.G. does not notice any difference in his
learning style from that of his peers.
In 2013, J.G. started his ninth grade year at Henry High School in Minneapolis with his
IEP at Federal Setting III. Right before J.G.’s freshmen year winter break, Henry High
School students were planning to fight him. Later, J.G., a few friends, and a group of other
students, took the Metro Transit bus after school (they have school-issued passes to ride the
city bus), and all got off together at a location in Minneapolis. The group was careful not to
start an altercation at school or on the bus. Notwithstanding, once they all got off the metro
transit bus, the students got into a fight. One of the students present took a video of the fight.
That video was brought to the attention of the school administrators.
When J.G. returned to Henry High School, he was called in to talk to school
administrators about the recorded off-campus event. All students implicated in the recorded
event were suspended for one week. Though the other students involved were permitted back
at school after their suspension, J.G. and his mother were summoned to an IEP meeting by
Henry High School’s principal, school social worker, and J.G.’s case manager. Though J.G.’s IEP
was still at a Setting III, the school representatives desired to send him to Harrison. J.G.'s
mother conditionally agreed, indicating they may "try it out" for him. As a fifteen year old boy
feeling there was nothing he could say to the administrators to make them reconsider their
4

thoughts, J.G. was given a chance to speak at the IEP meeting but did not. Thus, J.G. was sent
directly to Harrison, after his initial week of suspension.
Within his first day at Harrison, J.G.’s IEP level escalated from Setting III to IV. J.G.
attended Harrison for the remainder of his 9th grade year. J.G. had a difficult and traumatic
experience at Harrison, and hopes his story may prevent other students from having to share in
his experience.
Harrison employs Minneapolis police officers, whom are constantly present at the
school from 8:00 AM to 2:30 PM, the entire school day. Every morning before entering
Harrison, students are required to empty their pockets and turn over all of their possessions
including any bags, backpacks, or purses, to be left at the school’s entrance. Next, staff at the
school entrance examine the students’ belongings at will, though the students are barred from
bringing them in. Finally, students are able to enter Harrison, after walking through metal
detectors.
Minneapolis police officers administer the Harrison students’ personal property search, as
well as morning and afternoon student metal detector scan process. A s students cannot bring
anything into the school or take anything out of Harrison, students may only have their books
and school supplies during the school day. The students cannot do homework, for they cannot
bring books or school supplies home. J.G. received no homework the entire time he was at
Harrison, half of his ninth grade year. Harrison’s unduly intrusive search practices steps on the
students’ dignity, and prevents them from learning their material.
J.G. indicated that other students made it hard to learn at Harrison. All of Harrison’s
students have a Level IV IEP, whether it is due to a behavioral, emotional, or learning disability.
Violent and intense school fights were a perpetual threat as a result from the Harrison’s practices

5

focus on fear as a handling tool instead of learning.
Approximately five to fifteen students were in each classroom. Yet, there were three staff
members in each classroom: (1) the teacher; (2) a staff member who stays in the classroom
with the teacher and helps with classroom management, discipline, and teaching; and (3)
finally a "staff mover," who stays with the students as they move from room to room. When
fights break out in classrooms, the staff members assigned to the room or Harrison’s police
force will often intervene.
The students must have a "staff mover" to go anywhere outside of their class as they are
never permitted to be alone at Harrison. Even if a student merely wishes to use the restroom, the
staff mover will need to accompany them to unlock doors and supervise their progress. J.G.
recalls that this process was time-consuming and dramatically cut into learning time.
Overall, J.G. said it was obvious that none of the staff trusted or respected any of the
students. The students are followed at all times when they are at school and are never allowed
to go anywhere without a staff member. Moreover, staff members curse at students without
provocation, claiming that it is "their job" to treat students this way. He also states that students
are constantly disciplined with suspensions, both in-school and out of school. Though Harrison
punishes its students for minor infractions, J.G. remembers a staff member hypocritically and
openly recounted his drinking stories with a minor student.
Academically, J.G. says not much learning takes place at Harrison. Because books and
school supplies cannot be sent home with students, nor can students bring any materials or
assignments into the school, the teachers at Harrison never assigned homework. Furthermore,
with the frequent fights and outbursts occurring throughout the day, class time is often
interrupted. J.G. recalls that his class got through maybe a page or two of a textbook a day if
they were fortunate. He also recounted the entire time he spent there, he was never taught new
material and only reviewed items he had been previously taught.
6

Near the end of his ninth-grade year, J.G.'s step-mother visited Harrison. Upon
witnessing Harrison’s conditions, she enrolled J.G. at MNIC for the following year in a
different district. For him to ever attend a school other than Harrison within his home
Minneapolis School District, J.G.’s IEP setting must be reduced from a Level IV.
IV.)

HARRISON EDUCATION CENTER VIOLATES STUDENTS’ CIVIL RIGHTS
BY NOT PROVIDNG THEM WITH A FREE APPROPRIATE PUBLIC
EDUCATION.
IDEA demands that a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) be provided for students

with disabilities.2 Under the IDEA, an appropriate education must include services designed to
meet the individual education needs of disabled students as adequately as non-disabled students.
Moreover, disabled students are to be educated with non-disabled students to the extent possible.
As a check within the school system, IEP evaluation and established due process procedures
enable parents and guardians to guard against the misplacement of students. Unfortunately,
Harrison is failing to meet FAPE standards by providing an inadequate education to its students
according to essential academic indicators.
Harrison’s academic proficiency scores are shockingly abysmal, a disturbing illustration
of the educational quality their students receive. The Minnesota Department of Education shows
that between 2009 and 2013, only one student has graduated from Harrison.3 Harrison students
fall far below grade level in all measured scholastic areas. In reading, Harrison’s academic
proficiency rate is at 7.7%. In mathematics, Harrison’s academic proficiency rate is at 20%. In
science, Harrison’s science academic proficiency rate has remained at 0% for the last four years.4
Harrison’s educational quality is appalling, especially when juxtaposed against the majority of
2 https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/edlite-FAPE504.html
3 Minnesota Report Card, Minnesota Department of Education, http://rc. education. state.

mn.us/#mySchool/org ld--3000 1382000

p--1
7

Minnesota public schools with a modest 60% proficiency rate across the board in most scores. In
addition, with only 8 licensed teachers to 66 students in October of 2014, Harrison’s ratio of
licensed teachers to students is very poor.5 The educational statistics show that Harrison
students are not receiving an education equal to that of their non-disabled colleagues within the
same district.
Moreover, Harrison students are effectively segregated from non-disabled students,
which opposes the ends that FAPE standards strive toward. A FAPE intends for non-disabled and
disabled students to intermingle educationally to the extent possible. Though some students may
be unable to adequately receive an education with non-disabled students, this is certainly not the
case for all of Harrison’s students. For years, J.G. was able to learn with non-disabled students
and performed better academically than when placed in Harrison. Tragically, as Harrison is
Minneapolis’s sole Level IV rated school, it is reasonable to conclude that J.G.’s experience is
not uncommon. With an effectively overbroad IEP Level IV setting classification system and no
other public school choices within the Minneapolis Public School District, many Harrison
students are unduly segregated from non-disabled students in an educationally subpar setting,
unless of course they can afford a private school or switch districts.
Lastly, a FAPE must have due process procedures implemented for parents and guardians
to review placement decisions, as well as safeguards in place against misplacement. J.G.’s
placement at Harrison was a mistake, for placement in a school that cannot meet a student’s
educational needs is a misplacement of that student. The sole reason he was placed in Harrison
4 Minnesota Report Card, Minnesota Department of Education, http://rc.education .state.mn.

us/#mySchool/orgl d--3000 1382000

p--1

Minnesota Report Card, Minnesota Department of Education, http:!ire.education. state.
mn.us/#mySchool/org I d--3000 1382000 p--1
5

8

was because it was the only Level IV public school in the district. If parents and students are
given the ultimatum that they must attend Harrison, as the only Level IV setting public school,
their due process rights are violated because there is no adequate alternative for a public
education in the district.
A student’s guardian exercising his or her due process rights to a hearing for an
alternative school placement setting before administrators would simply produce the same result
as not exercising their rights, with Harrison as the district’s only Level IV school. Without
adequate alternatives, students are forced to leave the district or attempt to have their setting
decreased. To have a setting lowered from a Level IV, Harrison has laid out an extensive process
with multiple steps that are virtually impossible to meet. To lower a Level IV IEP setting requires
unattainable standards, such that we are unable to find a student who has successfully followed it
and left Harrison without switching districts. Merely having procedures in place that offer no
hope of relief is insufficient to protect students’ due process rights, and is not what IDEA
intended when establishing the FAPE standard.
After analyzing J.G‘s experience at Harrison along with Harrison’s academic record, it is
clear that Harrison is in violation of IDEA by not providing a FAPE to all students.
V.)

PRACTICES THAT SEND STUDENTS TO HARRISON ARE HAVING A
DISPARATE IMPACT ON STUDENTS OF COLOR AND COMPROMISING
THEIR OPPORTUNITY TO ATTAIN A SATISFACTORY EDUCATION.
The Equal Educational Opportunities Act ("EEOA") prohibits school districts from

funneling students into a school other than the one closest to their place of residence, if it
results in a greater degree of segregation of students for various reasons including race. The
EEOA states:
(c) The assignment by an educational agency of a student to a school, other than
9

the one closest to his or her place of residence within the school district in which
he or she resides, if the assignment results in a greater degree of segregation of
students on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin among the schools of
such agency than would result if such student were assigned to the school closest
to his or her place of residence within the school district of such agency
providing the appropriate grade level and type of education for each student.6
Harrisons’ demographics overwhelmingly indicate a disparate impact on Minneapolis’s
students of color. In 2014, 80.3% of Harrison's students were black, 4.5% were Hispanic, and
6.1% were American Indian or Alaskan Native, while only 9.1% were white.7 By comparison,
Henry High School, J.G.’s original school, had a demographic makeup of 41.1% black students,
not nearly as concentrated as at Harrison. In 2014, with 95.5% of students on a free or reduced
lunch, 100% of Harrison’s students were defined as special education students.8 In addition to
this, 6.1% of Harrison's students are English Learners ("EL").9
Teachers and School administrators have unreasonably broad discretion in moving a
student's IEP to Level IV and sending them to Harrison. After analyzing the Minneapolis
Public School District’s key demographics, it is apparent that the practices of those responsible
for sending students to Harrison are having a disparate impact on students of color. This
outcome conflicts with the intent of the EEOA and is not in the best interests of the affected
students.
6 Equal Educational Opportunities Act, 20 U.S.C.A.
7 Minnesota Report Card, Minnesota Department of Education, http://rc. education. state.

mn.us/#mySchool/org Id--3000 1382000

p--1

8 Minnesota Report Card, Minnesota Department of Education, http://rc.education

.state. mn.us/#mySchool/org Id--3000 1382000 p--1
9 Minnesota Report Card, Minnesota Department of Education, http://rc. education

.state.mn. us/#mySchool/org ld--3000 1382000 p--1
10

VI.)

HARRISON’S PRACTICE OF CONSTANT SURVEILLANCE AND
MONITORING IS IN VIOLATION OF STUDENTS’ RIGHT TO AN EDUCATION
IN A LEASTRESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT.
IDEA requires children with disabilities to be educated in the Least Restrictive

Environment (LRE) necessary for them to receive an adequate education.10 Thus, FAPE
standards have commonly extended this to mean that disabled and non-disabled students should
be integrated in the same classroom whenever possible. As long as individual needs are assessed
and students are placed accordingly, the FAPE’s LRE requisite is satisfied. Unfortunately,
Harrison’s practices violate the intent of the LRE measure.
As manifested in J.G.’s experiences, Harrison school is so policed and restricted that it
more closely resembles a detention center for punishment, as opposed to a legitimate learning
environment. The impetus underlying the LRE measure was to ensure equal treatment between
disabled students and non-disabled students as far as reasonably possible, so they can be
smoothly integrated into society upon graduating high school. Restraining students’
surroundings, monitoring their every movement, and restricting their independence more than
reasonably necessary creates unhealthy norms for students and inhibits their development.
Through Harrison’s practices of constant surveillance and police presence, students are taught to
be treated like criminals instead of individuals who will positively contribute to society as adults.
This is not in line with the motivation of a LRE.
Schools very existences are encased in the duty to prepare students for the real world and
set them up for success in their future. The question arises from J.G.’s experiences as to what sort
of future we are preparing Harrison students for when their daily environment resembles a prison
more than anything. School-to-Prison-Pipeline practices, a trend where students are funneled
10 http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/lre.osers.memo.idea.htm
11

from public schools into the criminal justice system,11 are so greatly ingrained in Harrison
policies that students are set up for failure. Students are treated like detainees and are threatened
with punishments that make anything other than lives of incarceration seem inaccessible.
For these reasons, Harrison is in violation of students’ right to a LRE in accordance with
IDEA.
VII.) REMEDIES
Based on the violations of students' constitutional and civil rights by Harrison
Education Center, we respectfully request that the Department of Justice protect students from
further violations by:
1. Launching an in-depth investigation of Harrison Education Center, including, but not
limited to addressing its:
i. Disciplinary procedures which are harsh, physical, or include police
involvement;
ii. Demographics that disparately impact students of color;
iii. Failure to educate students so that they are able to perform reading, science,
and mathematics at a sufficient academic proficiency rate;
iv. Failure to graduate more than one student in the past five years;
v. Failure to allow students to complete homework assignments or use any
education materials outside of the school; and
vi. The practice on the part of security personnel of looking through students'
personal belongings without cause.

11 https://www.aclu.org/school-prison-pipeline
12

2. Compelling Harrison to close its doors on a permanent basis.
Given the ongoing violations and harm to students at Harrison Education Center, we
respectfully request that the Department of Justice conduct an investigation of Harrison
Education Center or compel it to close its doors entirely.
Respectfully submitted,

/s/ Nekima Levy-Pounds, Esq.
The Community Justice Project
The Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services
University of St. Thomas
30 South 10th Street, Minneapolis MN 55403
(651) 962-4960
/s/Aleesa Jansick, Certified Student Attorney
The Community Justice Project
The Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services
University of St. Thomas
30 South 10th Street, Minneapolis MN 55403
(651) 962-4960
/s/Kyle Hahn, Certified Student Attorney
The Community Justice Project
The Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services
University of St. Thomas
30 South 10th Street, Minneapolis MN 55403
(651) 962-4960
/s/Derek Thooft, Certified Student Attorney
The Community Justice Project
The Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services
University of St. Thomas
30 South 10th Street, Minneapolis MN 55403
(651) 962-4960
/s/Black Advocates for Education
http://baeminnesota.org/

13