Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Disabled High School Students Sue Over Lack of ‘Transition’ Services
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
A federal class action lawsuit brought last week by disabled teens against the Montebello Unified School District and California Department of Education will likely result in improved school-to-adult transition services for the state’s special education students, the Disability Legal Rights Center said yesterday.
Shawna L. Parks, director of litigation for the DLRC, told the MetNews “there is significant evidence on a statewide level” that California’s special education students have been deprived of transition services.
The suit, which Parks said is the first class action ever filed in California over this issue, seeks a statewide injunction ordering the Department of Education and MUSD to comply with the relevant statutory requirements.
Under the California Education Code and federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, school districts must provide special education students, by the time they reach the age of 16, with “Individualized Educational Program” plans that include programs designed to help them transition as seamlessly as possible into adult life.
The districts must assess each student’s postsecondary goals and then provide them with services necessary to achieve those goals, such as vocational educational services helping them to prepare for employment. For any IEP meeting discussing transition services, the district must notify the student’s parent of the meeting, invite the student to attend and ensure that outside agencies are involved.
In their complaint, filed last Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Montebello students allege that their IEPs failed to comply with state and federal law, and that IEPs issued to other similarly situated students throughout the state also fail to comply with statutory mandates. The lawsuit also includes several causes of action for discrimination.
Parks noted that the plaintiffs represent a broad range of cognitive and physical disabilities qualifying them for special education services.
Along with the students, the California Association for Parent-Child Advocacy, a group of parents and advocates of students with disabilities, is also a plaintiff in the case. Speaking for the group, Maureen Graves remarked:
“California is and has been wholly deficient in providing transition services to youths with disabilities. This will pose problems for years to come as these children grow up and struggle to find supportive services, get jobs, or pursue higher education.”
According to Parks, the numbers of those qualifying for transition services reach hundreds within MUSD and thousands statewide. She pointed out:
“[T]he reason we have named the California Department of Education in the lawsuit is that we think that what’s going on win the Montebello School District is representative of what is happening on a statewide level. It’s ultimately the Department of Education’s responsibility to make sure everyone is doing their job.”
A department spokesperson said the agency has not yet been served with the complaint, but commented that “Superintendent [of Public Instruction Jack] O’ Connell is very concerned that all students, especially students with disabilities, receive the education services that they need and are entitled to.”
Along with the DLRC, the Learning Rights Law Center, the Legal Aid Society of San Francisco-Employment Law Center and Latham & Watkins are representing the plaintiffs.
The case is B.L. v. California Department of Education, CV 06-07630.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company