Tenn. educator to lead Jackson special education

By The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The state Department of Education and Jackson’s city school system have chosen a recently retired Tennessee educator to oversee the district’s efforts to comply with federal special education requirements.

Joseph Fisher, who recently retired from the Tennessee Department of Education, will be paid $800 a day to run Jackson’s special education program under an agreement between the district and state officials, The Clarion-Ledger reports (http://on.thec-l.com/UMoXct). That would work out to $200,000 a year.

Fisher, who retired as Tennessee’s assistant commissioner of the Division of College and Career Readiness, starts Nov. 28. He will be paid from the state’s special education budget.

Jackson has until June 30 to comply with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The district narrowly missed having its accreditation revoked on Nov. 1 for continued noncompliance.

Under an extension from that deadline, Jackson was forced to cede some power over its special education department to the Mississippi Department of Education. Interim state Superintendent Lynn House and Jackson Superintendent Cedric Gray agreed to jointly name Fisher, who will report directly to the state Department of Education.

The district must make sure its employees cooperate with Fisher and must agree to resolve “personnel concerns” that he raises. The state will withhold federal special education money until Fisher wants to spend it.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, Southern Disability Law Center and Disability Rights Mississippi said in a 2010 administrative complaint with the state that Jackson was overly punitive toward special education students, suspending them or sending them to the district’s alternative school. In a parallel action, the groups sued the district for handcuffing students at the alternative school and won a settlement barring use of restraints.

The groups sued the state in June 2012, arguing the state was required under federal law to take over Jackson’s special education program and force compliance. They want the court to name an administrator that the state and Jackson won’t control.