State says Northeastern violated federal, state bus safety rules

The Ohio Department of Education has alleged Northeastern Local School District violated federal and state rules for transporting a child with a disability.

Northeastern Superintendent John Kronour told the Springfield News-Sun the district maintains it followed all laws at all times and was addressing the issue before a complaint was filed.

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The school district, the second-largest in Clark County, has issued a reprimand against the bus driver for allegedly reporting the accusations to the state, according to her personnel file obtained by the News-Sun.

The Ohio Department of Education didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment on this article.

In a letter sent to Kronour dated July 18, 2017, Ohio Department of Education Assistant Director for the Office of Exceptional Children Monica Drvota says the school violated a federal regulation for how it handled an individualized education program and an Ohio administrative code for how the school transported the student.

The ODE investigation began, according to the letter, when a bus driver filed a complaint alleging the school wasn’t doing enough to prevent an 18-year-old student who uses a wheelchair from hitting his head on a window while being transported.

“The complainant alleges that due to mechanical issues with the student’s wheelchair, the student was unable to be secured on the bus in a manner that prevented the student from hitting his head due to the wheelchair rocking as the bus drove along its route,” the letter says.

The student hit his head on the bus window four times before the school convened a team to address the issue, the complaint alleges.

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“However, the complainant alleges transportation personnel were not consulted in preparation for the meeting and was not notified of any changes to the student’s transportation because he continued to be transported as he had before,” the letter says.

The school was working to adjust the student’s wheelchair so it would be more stable, installed padding on the window to prevent injury and re-routed the bus, the letter says. The adjustments allegedly didn’t stop the swaying, the letter says, and the school should have called a team meeting sooner to ensure the student was safe.

“The district was required to reconvene the (individualized education program) team prior to the annual review to discuss the student’s anticipated transportation needs that arose from the malfunctioning wheelchair and to revise the IEP, if necessary, to address any changes to the student’s transportation,” the letter says.

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Northeastern violated an Ohio administrative code because no district transportation department staff members attended the team meeting and no documentation was submitted to the transportation department, the letter says.

The Ohio Department of Education letter outlines three corrective steps Northeastern should take — observing the student while on the bus, inspecting the wheelchair and reporting back to ODE about how it resolved the issue.

The district was working to fix any issues with the transportation of students before the complaint was filed, Kronour said, and the affected student is being transported safely.

“We corrected everything in the letter, even though we didn’t feel we were in violation because we were in the process of working with the student’s parents to get any issues resolved,” Kronour said.

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Making sure all students are safe on buses and at school is a district priority, he said.

The bus driver who allegedly filed the complaint with the state, Cindy Ladig, now faces disciplinary action and a possible reassignment.

The Springfield News-Sun obtained part of Ladig’s personnel file through an Ohio Public Records Act request. The district hasn’t released her full file yet.

The file contains at least two letters to her from the district telling her that she shouldn’t have contacted ODE about the complaint. Northeastern alleges Ladig disclosed student records and health information without authorization, according to a written reprimand dated May 25, 2017, and was insubordinate and made “baseless allegations” against the district.

Kronour declined to discuss Ladig.

The reprimand letter says Ladig shouldn’t be given whistle-blower protection because she didn’t make a good faith effort to accurately report a violation.

Ladig declined to comment to the News-Sun. Her attorney John Concannon said the district should stop any disciplinary action against her.

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“The state department came back very much in her favor as far as it was appropriate of bringing this to their attention,” Concannon said.

Ladig won’t accept any discipline, he said.

“I don’t know where they are with what they are going to do but we will fight any discipline whatsoever,” Concannon said.

The Northeastern school board will hold an executive session involving employee discipline on Jan. 18 during its regular board meeting, Kronour said. He wouldn’t confirm if it was for Ladig.

Unmatched coverage

The Springfield News-Sun digs into important school safety issues in Clark and Champaign counties, including recent stories about health inspections at district and security improvements designed to prevent school shootings.

By the numbers

3,300: Students in Northeastern Local School District

2: Codes, one federal and one state, the Ohio Department of Education says Northeastern violated when transporting a student who uses a wheelchair

3: Corrective steps the state says Northeastern should take to remedy the situation

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