A Department of Education investigation into the Sarasota County School District’s exceptional student education program was released Tuesday evening with the conclusion that district officials have been placing students without severe cognitive disabilities into Access Points, an alternative program reserved for children with the most profound challenges.

Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran issued the results in a damning letter that placed significant new sanctions on the district, with the threat of losing special education funding if it does not comply.“The actions of your district have likely caused irreparable harm to the students in the forefront of this issue, which may never truly be quantified,” the commissioner wrote. “… It is imperative that the district stop blaming former colleagues and past administrations and take responsibility for corrective action immediately.”

“To date, I am not convinced that the district is consistently acting with students’ interest at the forefront,” Corcoran wrote.District spokesman Craig Maniglia was not immediately available for comment.

The state investigation was sparked by the “DJ” case, in which special education advocates Sue Memminger and Susan Magers uncovered evidence showing that school officials had shifted more than 100 students without severe disabilities into Access Points and then claimed ignorance of the practice under oath.

DJ was one of those students, and after a two-year legal battle, the district settled with his family for $250,000 last week. The DOE launched its investigation last year after a judge ruled that school officials had robbed him of his right to an education.

DOE investigators reviewed 66 sample student files and found that 27 of those students (41%) were either improperly placed or lacked the necessary documentation to show that the student belonged in the program.

The investigation was not an exhaustive review of all the children on Access Points, but the results paint a troubling picture of the district’s program that is reserved for the most vulnerable.

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