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FBI Probe Finds No Misuse of Title I Funds in Providence, R.I. District

A Providence news outlet is reporting that the 23,000-student Rhode Island district has been cleared in a probe of whether a vocational program for the intellectually disabled misused Title I funds

The district entered into a landmark agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice last year after investigators found that Harold A. Birch Vocational School, a program of about 80 students that enrolled most of the district's students with intellectual disabilities, funneled most of the youth into a sheltered workshop program. The students were given limited opportunities to gain the academic and work skills that would allow them to seek competitive employment, the Justice investigation found.

The Birch program was also investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor, because the youth and adults in the sheltered workshop were receiving far less than minimum wage for their work, which included light labor such as jewelry assembling and sorting. WPRI-TV, a CBS affiliate, reports that the school was also investigated by the FBI for how it spent Title I money, which is designated for schools with a high population of low-income students. 

The investigation, which also included local law enforcement officers, wrapped up last year with no evidence of wrongdoing, WPRI reports. The information about the FBI's involvement in the Birch school investigation was a part of an internal review of the school district, conducted at the request of the Providence city council. The district presented its findings to council members at a board meeting Jan. 2.

"The purpose of the review is to ensure that each and every student in Providence receives the best possible education. As the [Department of Justice] findings indicated, the program at Birch Vocational was severely outmoded, and diminished the opportunities of students with disabilities to fully function in community-based work environments as adults," said Councilman David Salvatore, in a statement. Salvatore had requested the internal review last summer. 

Since the agreement with the Justice Department was announced in June, the district has revamped its education program for students with intellectual disabilities. The newly named Birch Academy at Mount Pleasant now integrates its students into the larger high school population, and teachers have been retrained to offer transition opportunities for students. 

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