When Public Schools Fail Special Education Students: What Parents Can Do

Updated July 05, 2016 |
When Public Schools Fail Special Education Students: What Parents Can Do
Parents of special education students who are frustrated with the lack of support in the public school system are taking matters into their own hands. Learn about the lawsuits parents are filing against public schools that are failing special ed students.
While the majority of children can work well within the public school system, kids with special needs require additional help to succeed in the academic realm. Unfortunately, not all school districts are equipped to properly handle students with a wide range of needs, and these kids often fall through the cracks without getting the specialized help they desperately need. Fortunately, parents of these kids have legal options when the school system fails.
 
Failure to Identify Needs

In Wisconsin, a class-action suit is underway to examine how Milwaukee Public Schools answers the call to students with special needs, according to a report in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. The lead plaintiff in this suit, Jamie Stokes, is a 16-year-old who reads at a second-grade level and writes at a third-grade level. The young girl has struggled in school since the age of five, but the district would not agree to test her until Stokes failed first grade for the third time. At that point, the district determined that Stokes suffered from developmental delays and required additional support.
 
Stokes mother, Kina King, believes that if Stokes had received intervention services earlier, she might be on more solid academic footing today. King told the Journal Sentinel, "If they gave her the help she would have been better, not doing coloring books her sister in kindergarten is doing." Now the MPS is facing the question of compensation for families with students that were not placed in special education in a timely manner.
 
The current law suit is focusing on students that were in the MPS system between the years of 2000 and 2005. An attorney for the plaintiffs argues that MPS has done little to correct a flawed system since it was called to their attention in 2007. At this time, U.S. Magistrate Judge Aaron Goodstein found that the district had failed to meet the requirements under the federal special education law in regards to identifying and evaluating students with special needs. This left students in the schools during this time frame without adequate services to succeed, despite their disabilities.
 
This case is far from a decision, although both sides have made recommendations for a remedy to the problem. In the meantime, special needs children within the MPS still run the risk of not getting the help they need in a timely fashion. Pat Yale, director of special education for the district, said, "There's no automatic trigger. It's an individual analysis of each child."
 
Suing for Services
 
In New Orleans, parents are also using legal options to pursue the educational services their children need, according to a report at Nola.com. Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has seen a huge rise in charter schools within the city. Instead of using neighborhood attendance zones to determine which school children would attend, parents fill out a common application for the Recovery School District. The decision of which school a child will attend is made at the district level.
 
Unfortunately, parents of children with special needs have not found this system to work in their favor. Many of the charter schools in New Orleans are not equipped to help kids who require specialized services. This leaves a large sector of students to fall through the cracks, without a central system to ensure they get the education they need. Parents of 10 of these students have filed a lawsuit against New Orleans Public Schools, asking for the necessary services to help their children succeed in school. No financial compensation is being pursued at this time.
 
Money for Private Schools

Some parents resort to private schools for special-needs children, which can be pricey. One family in New York found a way around the cost, according to the Huffington Post. In 1997, Tom Freston began a legal battle with the New York City Board of Education over his eight-year-old son's education. Freston argued that the tuition for the school his son attended, the Stephen Gaynor School, should be paid by the district, since the public school down the street did not offer sufficient services to help his son. Freston won the case, and the school board was ordered to pay the tuition reimbursement, which totaled more than $20,000 for the year.
 
While not everyone agrees with the idea of taking money for public education to pay for private schooling for children with special needs, most believe that schools need to do more to help these kids. Thanks to a smattering of lawsuits across the country, school districts may be forced to take a closer look at how they handle their students with disabilities in the future.

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