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Timeliness with Special Education Programs Avoids Lawsuits

Updated on December 18, 2014

Faster Placement in Special Education Avoids Lawsuits Against Schools

The time school systems take to put disabled children into special education programs can determine whether parents can sue successfully, according to a December 2014 federal district court ruling.

The ruling dismissed an 18-year-old special education lawsuit against the District of Columbia’s public school system.

Plaintiffs in the Blackman-Jones case said the the school system violated federal laws by being slow to conduct administrative hearings for parents requesting special education, by not following through on their promises and by being slow to transfer diabled students into the programs.

The parents won initially after they filed their lawsuits in 1997. They convinced the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the schools failed to comply with special education laws.

The court appointed a monitor to make sure the D.C. schools made progress toward compliance with the law. This week, Judge Paul Friedman ruled the city’s special education improvements were adequate to dismiss the lawsuit.

Now, the D.C. schools can administer their own special program without a court-appointed monitor checking on them and reviewing their files.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said the D.C. schools inspired enough confidence in the courts that they put the systems in place that we will never go back to the times of dysfunction and lack of services that used to characterize DCPS.

As the lawsuit continued, the school system reached a settlement agreement with parents requiring it to meet three goals. The schools had to eliminate a backlog of more than 2,000 pending hearing-officer decisions and settlements; make certain 90 percent of the administrative hearing decisions are reached promptly and reduce the implementation of special education services to no more than 90 days.

Federal regulators plan to continue monitoring some parts of the D.C. schools’ special education, such as timeliness of student evaluations and development of transition plans for special ed students preparing for life after high school.

Nevertheless, Mayor Vincent Gray said the lawsuit dismissal was a huge day for the District and for children with disabilities.

Complaints about the special education program have dropped significantly along with the number of disabled students transferred to private schools at taxpayer expense because D.C. schools could not meet their needs, Gray said. The number of disabled students transferred to private schools fell from 2,204 before his administration to 975 since he became mayor, he said.

Schools avoid liability only if they act quickly to implement special education.
Schools avoid liability only if they act quickly to implement special education.

How much discretion in special ed for schools?

Should courts supervise the compliance of public schools with special education requirements?

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    • Tom Ramstack profile image
      Author

      Tom Ramstack 23 months ago from Washington, D.C.

      Thank you. I hope you also like the substance of my articles. In this case, special education rules can have broad implications for the liability of school systems.

    • greenmind profile image

      greenmind 23 months ago

      Good thoughts and I really like the way you write.