This article was originally published on K12 News Network's The Wire
“The district court further erred when it found intervention unnecessary to protect appellant's’ interest in ensuring the receipt of public education consistent with their disabilities and federal law.”
- Judge Carlos T. Bea
The LAUSD claims that “special education centers are unnecessary because the District can ‘provide all supports and services...at a general education site”, but there are parents of severely disabled students who disagree with this assessment, especially when “their children began coming home after school with bruises and other injuries” after their children were transferred away from special education centers. The mainstream environment also failed a student who is on the autism spectrum and was “found ‘walking alone a mile from the school’ due to understaffing in [his] classroom and the lack of special safety features at [his] new general education campus”. The Independent Monitor who oversees the District’s compliance with the 20 year old special education consent decree found that general education campuses had “areas designated for ‘[diaper changing, feeding and health care protocols’ [that] ‘were located inside classrooms that lacked running water and drainage’; [that] special education classrooms were placed ‘over 350 feet’ from bathrooms scheduled to be renovated to accommodate disabled children [and] the placement of bus drop-offs and lunch areas required blind children ‘to navigate slopes, uneven steps, tripping hazards and protruding objects’ to get to class”. Still, the District continues to fight parents in court so that they can forcibly transfer moderately to severely disabled students away from specially designed school environments and instead mainstream them in general education facilities.
Having “parent and community engagement” is a stated goal of the LAUSD, but court papers show how far the District and its outside lawyers will go to silence those advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable students. This includes allegations that “the LAUSD has threatened to terminate the positions of special education teachers and providers if they express an opinion about placement at their student’s IEP [Individualized Education Program] meeting contrary to general education placement”. The District seems to argue that it is a more knowledgeable authority than the concerned parents when it ignores their concerns to state that they are giving “students who would otherwise be segregated at a special education center the opportunity to be a part of a comprehensive educational environment.” (emphasis mine) While the District claims that “planning for the integration of students was thoughtful and comprehensive”, “parents of affected students were not invited to participate in the LAUSD/Class Counsel/Independent Monitor negotiations” that put the changes in motion. The lawyers even argue that the parents should be excluded from filing because they “did not seek to intervene in the proceedings” when the “underlying class action lawsuit was filed in 1993” and “the Consent Decree was entered in 1996”, long before their children were even born.
The District bases its argument against the parents on the false premise that “Congress requires mainstreaming”. While federal and state laws do “require that special education students receive services in the ‘least restrictive environment’”, it also specifies that this is based on the appropriate needs of the children. Therefore, the law allows the District to educate these children on separate campuses dedicated to their special education if their parents agree that it is necessary for their well being. Furthermore, there is nothing in the law that says that interactions with their non-disabled peers has to take place on the general education campus. General education classes could be taught on the special education campus, perhaps for students interested in a career in special education, allowing the special education students to remain in their safe place and facilitating a more productive interaction for both sets of students.
Last month, the 9th Circuit overruled a lower court and stated that parents did have the right to intervene on behalf of their children. This will allow them to continue the fight to keep special education centers as a choice available to them during the IEP process. If the LAUSD was serious about improving parental engagement, they would have used this loss as a reason to sit down with the parents with the aim of finding a collaborative solution that could end the litigation. Instead, their outside law firm has filed an appeal. In a District that constantly claims that they do not have the money to provide needed services to students, one has to assume that there were better uses for the money that will end up in the pockets of these lawyers.