Law groups file class action on behalf of special needs students

Alejandro de los Rios Oct. 27, 2010, 2:28am

Four Louisiana law advocacy groups announced their civil rights lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) on behalf of special needs students in New Orleans.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), the Community Justice section of the Loyola Law Clinic and the Southern Disability Law Center filed the suit Oct. 26 in U.S. Distric Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

SPLC attorney Eden Heilman is the lead counsel in this case. The 60-page class-action complaint names Louisiana State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, the LDE and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (LBESE) as defendants.

In a press release, Heilman said that the LDE "recently acknowledged the well-documented barriers facing students with disabilities in New Orleans. This acknowledgement is heartening and gives us hope that we can collaborate to immediately address the urgent crisis facing New Orleans students with disabilities."

The complaint states that its purpose is to "vindicate the rights of all New Orleans students with disabilities filed pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act [IDEA] of 2004."

The suit claims that the defendants have engaged in "disability discrimination" because Orleans Public schools "have failed to ensure that public schools offer disabled students the same variety of educational programs and services as are available to non-disabled children."

The suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to remedy alleged violations of IDEA, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

There are 22 plaintiffs named in the suit, all of which are disabled students and their parents who claim to have been affected by lack of services for the disabled in New Orleans schools. The student disabilities range from Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and dyslexia to autism and blindness and all attend public or charter schools located in Orleans Parish.

The suit also accuses the LDE of several "systemic violations" including "discrimination on the basis of disability" and "failure to protect students' procedural safeguards in the disciplinary process." It cites several instances where students were denied admittance to public schools based on their disabilities.

The vast majority of New Orleans public schools were taken over by the State's Recovery School District (RSD) from the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) since hurricane Katrina. Currently there is a class action suit against the state in Orleans Parish Civil District Court by former OPSB employees who were let go after the RSD took over.

Federal Case 10-cv-04049

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