STATE INVESTIGATION: Amid rapid growth, Elevate failed to address special education needs

In a rush to expand, the Elevate Academy Network failed to provide for all special education students in its two new schools, according to four state investigations completed last year.

Elevate schools in Nampa and Post Falls, both opened in 2022, were out of compliance on a combined two dozen allegations regarding special education, according to the 2023 reports. The violations were wide-ranging — from charter leaders making decisions that were best for Elevate rather than best for students, to schools failing to provide adequate special education services, for months on end in one case.

Idaho Department of Education investigators have ordered the Elevate schools to address the issues, and to properly train staff members and leaders. 

“Special education has been extremely challenging for new school start ups in the past couple of years,” said Monica White, the CEO and co-founder of the network, which started three new schools in four years. Another is slated to open in Idaho Falls this fall, bringing the network to four charters. 

The Elevate investigation reports are among 37 issued for special education programs statewide last year — 35 of which found schools out of compliance with federal special education law on at least one issue. Elevate schools stood out, with more complaints investigated than any other district, and with the most violations.  

“We erred on the side of understaffing” due to lean budgets, White said. It was difficult at first to predict the amount of students with disabilities that would enroll at the schools — which ended up being 19-20% of the population at the Nampa and North campuses, as compared to that year’s state average of 11%. 

On top of that, parents who take issue with special education programs have shifted “from problem solving at the school level to immediate complaints at the state level,” White said.

Now, school leaders have systems and data in place to better predict and manage new schools. That includes increased staffing, improved procedures to identify children with disabilities, and a new and “very well-respected” special education director. 

“We have committed to having the highest quality special education program available to students,” said White, adding that the schools are now fully in compliance with special education laws.

State inspectors will be following up with the Elevate schools in question between April and August to ensure fixes have been made, according to the reports. 


Monica White, CEO and co-founder of Elevate Academy Network. Photo:

State investigators last year identified 24 violations at Elevate schools — eight in Nampa and 16 in Post Falls. The only other districts with double-digit violations were Oneida School District, which operates a troubled online school, and Garden Valley, which has made headlines for systemic special education violations. Those districts had 15 and 11 violations in 2023, respectively. 

Elevate Academy was among three charters that were the focus of state-filed investigation reports in 2023. The others were Alturas Preparatory Academy in Idaho Falls (with five violations) and Pocatello Community Charter School (with one violation). 

At Elevate Nampa, a confidentiality breach and a leader who rejected suggestions

Elevate Nampa opened in 2022, and in that school year, 65 of its 332 students were on IEPs. 

In 2023, the state released findings from two investigations into Elevate Nampa, the first c0mpleted just months after the school opened its doors.

Demystifying Jargon: An Individualized Education Program identifies a student with disabilities’ needs and includes specific, measurable goals to “enable the student to make adequate progress in the general education curriculum.” A team of district staff, parents, and the student meets periodically to develop, review, and revise the plan.

After a December 2022 complaint, Elevate Nampa was found out of compliance on six of six allegations. The state investigator identified a range of issues, including:

A domineering co-founder: The co-founder dominated an IEP meeting “with minimal discussion from other team members.” The team “lacked consensus” and the co-founder “rejected suggestions.” The meeting ended when the co-founder decided a phone call with the complainant should end. 

Not following required procedures: The student’s IEP was amended without an IEP team meeting, without written consent to do so, and without input from the complainant.

IEP changes were made because they were easiest for administrators, rather than best for the student: IEP changes were “not based on changes in the student’s strengths, needs, or new assessments.” Instead, they reflected “the district’s administrative convenience.” The investigator admonished the district not to make such decisions based on “staff availability, funding, or an expectation that all special education is offered” by general education teachers in the general education classroom. 

Breaching student confidentiality: District staff disclosed a student’s personally identifiable information to a party outside the district. 

The state ordered the district to provide staff training, provide students with any needed makeup services, and end any practice that puts the district’s policy and philosophy ahead of the student needs.

After a September 2023 complaint, Elevate Nampa was found out of compliance on two of three allegations. Here are some of the issues identified by the investigator: 

School leaders were slow to respond to parent requests:

  • The complainant asked the district to reevaluate the student’s IEP, saying it was insufficient, but the district did not respond. An IEP meeting was not scheduled until after the complainant formally filed a complaint with the IDE.
  • The investigator concluded that, for a certain time period (that could not be fully ascertained due to redactions), the district did not provide special education and related services as required by the student’s IEP.

“Unwilling” district staff: The complainant reported “feeling that the District was unwilling to help this Student with special needs and an IEP.”

Documentation and progress reports were also lacking or insufficient: No regular data was gathered as to which supports and accommodations were provided to the student, and whether they were successful. Weekly progress was not monitored, and progress reports were not provided to the complainant. 

No proof of staff training: There was no documentation or evidence to prove that staff were appropriately trained or aware of their responsibilities. 

The state ordered the district to train staff, hold an IEP meeting facilitated by an IDE-assigned contractor, and document both. 

At Elevate North, a student went without special education services for months, and leaders made decisions out of convenience

In 2022-23, Elevate North’s first year, 43 of its 227 students (or about 19%) were on IEPs.

Another two investigations were made into Elevate Academy in Nampa, with findings issued last year. 

After an April 2023 complaint, the district was found out of compliance on 10 of 12 allegations. These were some of the problems the investigator found:

The district did not appropriately adopt a prior IEP, develop a new one, or implement services so the student was denied a free and appropriate public education, as required by federal law. 

Team members absent from IEP meetings:

  • Team members were missing without excusal, and without providing input. Therefore, the school did not have the required participants or relevant information needed for the parent to participate fully.
  • The district intended to remove special education services for a student “because of the unique structure of the district” without informing guardians.

The district failed to re-evaluate the student’s special education eligibility on time.

Decisions were made in the district’s best interest, rather than the student’s: Part of the student’s IEP was designed “for the convenience of the district” rather than to meet the needs of the student.

The state ordered the district to:

  • Establish and implement “clear and compliant” practices and procedures, including: ensuring parent participation in the IEP process, monitoring progress, and ensuring IEP implementation. 
  • Train staff and document the training.
  • Hold an IEP meeting facilitated by an IDE-assigned contractor and document it.
  • Provide makeup services. 
Elevate Academy North. Photo:

After a March 2023 complaint, the district was found out of compliance on six of six allegations. These problems were among those the investigator identified:

Between August 2022 and March 2023, the district did not adopt, review, or develop an IEP, or provide special education services: The student went without services for months. 

The district did not provide progress reports as required.

The state ordered the district to: 

  • Train its staff and document it. 
  • Provide additional training for the charter’s special education director and special education lead, including:
    • Taking a class provided by the IDE on leading special education teams.
    • Attending monthly webinars for special education directors.
  • Complete the charter school special education verification process.
  • Expedite the student’s eligibility meeting.
  • Hold an IEP meeting facilitated by an IDE-assigned contractor and document it. 

EdNews data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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