U.S. Dept of Ed investigating civil rights claim related to Powhatan school consent form

Parent says she shouldn’t have to allow information sharing to get funds for private placement of disabled student

By: - March 6, 2023 12:02 am

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The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating whether Powhatan County Public Schools discriminated against a student with disabilities and then retaliated against the child and their family for their advocacy efforts because the student’s mother refused to sign a consent form letting the division share certain information with other local and state agencies and service providers.

The investigation follows a June complaint from the family about the school division’s refusal to cover the costs of the student’s transfer to private placement after the family failed to sign a Children’s Services Act consent to exchange form.

Private placement is a smaller educational setting outside the public school where students with disabilities can receive support from specialized experts.

The consent form is an agreement that gives local and state agencies involved with working with the child access to a number of personal records, including the birthdate of the child and their parent or guardian, the child’s Social Security number and the last four digits of the parent’s Social Security number. The parent or guardian is also required to provide criminal, financial and health records for the child, unless stated otherwise by the Child Services Act. 

In some cases, parents or guardians are required to provide their records as well, although it is not mandatory in cases involving individualized education program, or IEP, services.

In the Powhatan case, the student’s mother, Kathy Halvorsen, said she refused to sign the “invasive” form after her child was determined to need private placement through their IEP. The child is autistic and Halvorsen said they have school-induced trauma due to repeated seclusion. 

The student was scheduled to go into private placement in January 2022.

Halvorsen provided a copy of the consent form she was asked to sign that listed more than a dozen agencies in and outside of Powhatan County that would have access to her son’s records. The list included the school division, the county health department and an unspecified combination of  “private service” and “utilization review” providers. If a parent or guardian does not sign a consent form, they are required to contact each individual agency for services.

Audra Morris, manager of Powhatan’s Children’s Services Office, said in a June 27, 2022 email to the family and the school system that because the mother did not signed the consent form, the Powhatan children’s services office was unable to complete its assessment process to determine the child’s eligibility to receive state funding for private educational services. 

“For these reasons, Powhatan CSA must deny CSA funding, and the school system is responsible for the provision of free appropriate public education,” Morris wrote.

A Jan. 11, 2018 memo from the state’s Office of Children’s Services in consultation with the Virginia Office of the Attorney General states if parental consent is not provided for the assessment, the local school division is responsible for the costs under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

That memo also says school divisions cannot share educational records including IEPs with community policy management teams, which manage cooperation between communities and state resources. Disclosing such information would be a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the memo concludes.

Morris provided the family with an updated consent form that removed “unnecessary information” not required for funding, such as financial and employment records, but it was not enough to change the family’s decision. 

But critics of the consent form said any school division requiring a family to sign such a form to access funding for private special education placement violates parents’ rights.

Halvorsen said Powhatan County Public Schools is responsible for the costs of the student’s placement but has failed to pay because she won’t sign the consent form.

“This isn’t just about Powhatan. It’s all over the commonwealth,” she said. “Sitting in IEP meetings and listening to the stories are egregious.”

Kandise Lucas, an academic civil rights advocate who is working with the family on the case, said the school division’s decision to withhold the student’s placement is problematic.

“Parents that have students with disabilities should not have to disclose highly personal information to outside sources when the school division is receiving a minimum of $15,000 to $40,000 a year to educate them,” Lucas said.

Halvorsen has also claimed the school division discriminated against her child because of their disability by excluding them from classes and refusing to provide appropriate accommodations. She also claimed the school division retaliated against her child by contacting the potential provider of private services, Believe-N-U Academic Development Center, to say the student was not authorized to attend. And she said the school division contacted the Powhatan Office of Children’s Services and disclosed the student’s records without the family’s consent.

Lucas said she is working with lawmakers to create legislation to ban the form.

“If they do it to this mom, think about who else they do it to,” Lucas said. “Parents should not have to violate their privacy and confidentiality just to access a free and appropriate public education.”


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Nathaniel Cline
Nathaniel Cline

Nathaniel is an award-winning journalist who's been covering news across the country since 2007, including politics at The Loudoun Times-Mirror and The Northern Neck News in Virginia as well as sports for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. He has also hosted podcasts, worked as a television analyst for Spectrum Sports, and appeared as a panelist for conferences and educational programs. A graduate of Bowie State University, Nathaniel grew up in Hawaii and the United Kingdom as a military brat. Five things he must have before leaving home: his cellphone, Black Panther water bottle, hand sanitizer, wedding ring and Philadelphia Eagles keychain.