Legal Aid, Wake County schools reach settlement to improve services to students with mental health or behavior disabilities

RALEIGH · March 7, 2019 – The Wake County Public School System (“WCPSS”) and Legal Aid of North Carolina have entered into an agreement addressing the concerns raised by Legal Aid of NC in a systemic state complaint filed with the Department of Public Instruction in 2018. The focus of the complaint was on services provided and procedures followed in regard to students with disabilities who were also impacted by either mental health diagnoses or behavioral difficulties while at school.

While many of the strategies and systems outlined in the Agreement were already underway by the district, this agreement also outlines many processes and services for students with special needs that are the direct result of the collaboration of the Wake County Public School System and Legal Aid of North Carolina. Moving forward, it is the hope and desire of both parties to continue to look for opportunities that may foster collaboration for the benefit and support of special needs students.

The agreement, finalized on February 13, 2019, outlines a number of ways that the district will work to improve services for students with mental health disabilities, including:

  • providing training for staff on effective behavior interventions, including trauma-informed procedures,
  • implementing a suspension monitoring system,
  • updating service protocols for students with disabilities who are suspended for more than ten days or are assigned to an alternative program,
  • conducting an internal audit to increase compliance with required procedures for students with mental health/behavioral disabilities, and
  • providing individual remedies for students similarly situated to the complainants, including those students who missed 20 or more school days due to suspensions or transportation delays.

“The steps WCPSS is taking through the Agreement will help ensure that students with mental health or behavior disabilities are getting the education they deserve and that the law requires,” said Cari Carson, staff attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Advocates for Children’s Services (“ACS”).

“We are pleased to reach this agreement with Legal Aid of North Carolina on completing the strategies and systems outlined in the settlement, some of which were already underway,” said Karen Hamilton, assistant superintendent for Special Education Services with the Wake County Public School System. “We look forward to future opportunities to support our students with special needs.”

The complaint was filed on behalf of seven individual students, and alleged that WCPSS had violated the rights of those students and other similarly situated students with mental health disabilities by:

  • suspending students without holding the legally required manifestation determination review meetings,
  • failing to timely provide students with transportation to alternative placements,
  • holding Individualized Education Program meetings without the proper team members present,
  • failing to provide educational services after the 11th cumulative day of suspension, as required by law
  • placing students in segregated settings without appropriate behavioral interventions in place that may keep them in less-restrictive environments.

Both ACS and WCPSS believe students with mental health disabilities can experience school success with the right supports in place.

“In fact, special education law requires that all students with disabilities be offered an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment,” Carson said. “But too often, students with mental health disabilities are segregated away from their non-disabled peers or are not making academic progress in any setting.”

Advocates for Children’s Services will hold a free legal education clinic, “Know Your Rights in Public Schools,” this month to empower parents to enforce their students’ rights to effective behavior and mental health supports in public schools. The clinic will be held March 20 at Legal Aid’s Raleigh office at 224 S. Dawson St. and will be broadcast live to a dozen other locations across the state. Parents can learn more and register to attend here.

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About Legal Aid of North Carolina and Advocates for Children’s Services

Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Advocates for Children’s Services (ACS) is a statewide project of Legal Aid of North Carolina that serves children from low-wealth communities in education cases. ACS fights for education justice and an end to the school push out crisis in North Carolina through legal advocacy, community education, and collaboration. For more information, visit and

About WCPSS Special Education Services

The Special Education Services Department of the Wake County Public School System provides special education and related services to more than 20,000 children based on the federal mandates of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the regulations of the North Carolina Public School Law. If you have questions regarding your child’s IEP and services, contact the Office of Family and Community Connections in Special Education Services at (919) 431-7334.

Media contacts

  • Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations, Legal Aid of North Carolina, 919-856-2132,
  • Tim Simmons, Chief of Communications, Wake County Public Schools, 919-533-7095,