ACLU Charges Los Angeles School District for Failing to Fulfill its Promises to Special Education Students

August 14, 2001 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today filed a formal complaint on behalf of special education students and their parents against administrators overseeing the Chanda Smith consent decree, an agreement requiring the Los Angeles Unified School District to identify and educate special education students in a manner consistent with state and federal law.

“The complaint filed today details a deliberate, massive and wholesale about-face by the district of its court-ordered duties and responsibilities to provide equal education as mandated by federal law to 80,000 special education students and their families,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California.

The Chanda Smith agreement was reached in 1996, when the Los Angeles Unified School District faced evidence of its non-cooperation with special education and civil rights laws.

Today’s complaint, which comes at a time when district officials have publicly backed away from the agreement, will challenge the district to fulfill the promises it made, which remain only partially fulfilled. Board of Education members were also formally notified that they face contempt proceedings in the matter.

“The lesson that this district has taught its students is that promises are made to be broken and that the 3-Rs for special education students are renege, resist and regress,” said Rosenbaum.

Civil rights attorneys have worked with the district since 1996 to develop numerous plans, listing activities, which the District promised to carry out to better serve special education students. The District has yet to carry out many of those activities, including:

· Implementing an information management system as specified in the consent decree.
· Providing required speech and language services to thousands of students.
· Fully implementing a telephone help line in the District’s primary languages.
· Fully instituting required campus compliance reviews.
· Fully training on-site special education compliance teams.
· Fully instituting on-site inventory system for resources necessary to carry out Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students.
· Fully implementing training for staff to provide translation and interpretive services.
· Involving parents as specified in the parent participation plan.

“Even though the district has been under the scrutiny of the Chanda Smith consent decree for five years,” said Robert M. Myers of Newman, Aaranson, Vanaman, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, “much remains to be done before its fulfills its obligations to special education students. There is no reason to believe that the school district will complete its reform if it evades the enforcement mechanisms through which parents and other school stakeholders can currently hold it accountable.”

The letter sent to the Board of Education today details the history of the consent decree and the litigation which led to it, including the numerous failures federal monitors identified in a 1996 review of the district’s special education compliance. The letter also describes a recent shift in the school district’s attitude toward the case, which signals a clear break from the district’s policy of cooperation and working collaboratively with parents.

“Now is not the time to abandon the progress that has been made and undo the agreement,” said Catherine Blakemore, Executive Director of Protection and Advocacy, Inc. “Parents, students, and other stakeholders in the district have invested much. The plans developed thus far represent steady, hard, collaborative work among the groups involved in solving the problems that special education students have historically encountered in Los Angeles Unified School District.”

The ACLU of Southern California, the Protection and Advocacy, Inc., Newman, Aaranson, and Vanaman, and Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May represent the plaintiffs in Chanda Smith.

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