In 2012, new LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and new Director of Special Education Sharyn Howell began a concerted effort to deprive special education students of their rights to Free and Appropriate Public Education. Without notifying the parents, these individuals caused schools for moderately and severely disabled students to close, such as the Frances Blend School for the Blind and the Lull Special Ed Center.
Under Deasy and Howell's direction, pre-schoolers were not allowed to enroll in special education centers, middle schoolers were moved to general education classes, and IEP (Individualized Education Plan) teams were discouraged from offering or even mentioning special education centers to parents of disabled students. Placement decisions were made downtown in administrative offices prior to IEP meetings, without parent input.
Since 2013, more than 1,000 students have been arbitrarily transferred to unprepared general education sites, in violation of their IEPs, and without the services previously provided.
Done under the guise of "integration and inclusion," special education students have suffered greatly, being academically/socially isolated and unable to keep up in their new environments.
The first step toward this new paradigm of integrating special ed students into regular ed classes was taking non-physically-disabled students out of special schools. Then the special schools were labeled "segregated" on the grounds that they weren't including non-disabled students, and the schools were maligned on that basis.
In at least two individual due process cases, the LAUSD attorneys referred to budget problems as the reason for school closures. In other words, there wasn't enough money to provide our children with the necessary services and special school programs, so throw them in with the general education population.
Two sets of parents filed a motion to intervene. Judge Lew of the U.S. District Court ruled that the motion was not timely. An appeal was filed with the U.S. Ninth District Court of Appeals in 2014, and the case was heard in February 2016. The court ruled unanimously on May 20, 2016 to overrule Judge Lew's decision and ordered intervention on behalf of students with moderate to severe disabilities. The court decision is filled with criticism of LAUSD's actions.
LAUSD's response was to hire Littler Mendelson, the largest law firm in the world representing management, filing a petition on June 3, 2016 for a rehearing. The Board of Education alleged that the suit was filed on behalf of six parents whose philosophy is different than the rest of the United States.
Dozens of parents came to the Board of Education to bravely and passionately testify about the needs of their children. They beseeched the Board to withdraw their petition for a rehearing. Board members Scott Schmerelson and Richard Vladovic voting in closed session to withdraw. Four members: Steve Zimmer, Monica Garcia, Monica Ratliff, and Ref Rodriguez voted to continue the petition, and Board member George McKenna abstained.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court rejected LAUSD's petition on July 27, 2016 and denied a rehearing. They granted Appellant's motion to intervene.
Our gratitude goes out to the following people who prevented a few bad actors from getting rid of special education schools and classes:
- Attorneys Eric Jacobson Steve Maseda, Suzanne Snowden, and Seymour Amster
- Advocates Alex Gonzales, Karen Gilman, and Michael Gliona
- The many parents of special needs children who testified, wrote letters, filed for due process, and wrote declarations fighting against this injustice.
- The courageous teachers and staff who, despite intimidation, stood up for the rights and needs of their students.
This is a David vs Goliath story where the underdogs prevailed against the evil forces of third parties such as the American Civil Liberties Union and California Disability Rights (two organizations that probably didn't do their homework), two large and prestigious law firms, and the bureaucracy and legal department of the LAUSD.
This blog post expresses my personal appreciation of all those people who were committed to protect the rights of blind children and those with moderate to severe disabilities.
Note: The leaders of the movement to move special education students around no longer hold their positions. John Deasy has been replaced and Sharyn Howell retired on June 30, 2016.
For current information, refer to the Save Our Special Schools (SOSS) Facebook Page at facebook.com/soss2013