Officials at the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colo., intentionally destroyed the records of a special education student in order to keep them away from his family.
The officials feared the family would sue the district for not providing their child with a proper specialized educational program.
The plan to delete the records was laid bare in an email sent by Sarah Belleau, the district’s director of integrated services, which was obtained by Denver’s 7News.
“Please ask all involved staff to delete AND destroy any e-mail or paper records related to this family,” Belleau wrote to her special education coordinator. “When they delete the e-mail, they need to then ‘empty the trash.’ Please have them do this immediately. All other records with the exception of the latest [education] plan should be destroyed — shred. The reason is to protect against an Open Records Request.”
She ended the email by asking the coordinator to verbally instruct the staff to destroy records because, “I do not want to put this in writing.”
While the email was written in 2010, it was only just discovered in court documents during the 7News investigation.
The case involves Isaac Starr, an autistic 9-year-old student whose parents had recently moved to Fort Collins from California. Ephraim Starr, the boy’s father, gave the school district his son’s Individualized Education Plan from the California school, asking Poudre School District to utilize it when developing Isaac’s new program.
He suspected that they weren’t, however, when Isaac began reverting to behaviors that had been overcome years before.
“They weren’t taking into account our points of view as his parents,” Starr told 7News.
He asked for Isaac’s educational records through Colorado’s Open Records Act request and discovered several pertaining to the plan to destroy the documents.
“I’d never seen a record like that in my life,” Starr told the TV station. “I didn’t know what to think. I felt like, so not only do we have every reason to be distrustful of these people, but by virtue of their approach to our son’s special education they were intentionally destroying the very records on which we would like to rely to make sure his education was what he deserved.”
Gloria Hohrein, the special education coordinator Belleau emailed about destroying the records, was fired for having done so. But she told 7News that she printed out a copy of that email before deleting it from her computer, afraid that she would be blamed if the situation ever came to light.
She said the district wanted the records destroyed because officials feared “that [Isaac’s father] would bring a lawsuit against the school district. Because he wasn’t getting the services he wanted.”
The attempt to destroy the records has so far cost taxpayers at least $200,000, the station reported. A judge ordered the district to pay the family’s legal fees and the cost of hiring a data recovery expert to un-delete the files.
The judge found that the district didn’t break the open records law for documents destroyed before Starr made his open records act request. But the district was found to have illegally withheld records.
The district is now suing the Starr family for the right to test Isaac Starr to determine whether he still requires certain components of the specialized education plan.
7News reported that the woman who ordered the records’ destruction was honored by Fort Collins’ mayor as the employee of the year in 2012.
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