Five plaintiffs claim students with disabilities in the Rochester (NY) City School District have been denied the public education, services, programs and aid to which they're entitled under federal law.
A proposed class action lawsuit filed on behalf of five pseudonymous minors alleges children with disabilities within the Rochester City School District have been deprived of an appropriate public education due to “widespread, decades-long, systemic” violations of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—IDEA.
Filed against Rochester, New York’s school district and board of education, the 46-page complaint aims to remedy allegedly long-standing deficiencies in the city’s special education system, as well as put in place “programs, placements, services, and due process protections” to which the case says students with disabilities and their parents are entitled.
The case says that of the nearly 30,000 students in school within the Rochester City School District, approximately 6,500 are classified as having a disability, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalized anxiety disorder, and down syndrome, that makes them eligible for special education and related services under IDEA. The law is built upon six pillars, or “frameworks,” that dictate a school district’s responsibilities with regard to identifying and providing education and services to students who fall into one of 13 disability categories:
Child Find Framework:Mandates a school district must “identify, locate, and evaluate” all children with disabilities, including homeless children, within its jurisdiction. This framework also calls for a district to determine whether a child is currently receiving “needed” special education and related services. After locating a student with a disability, a school district must initiate a referral to its Committee on Special Education (CES) for students who have not “made adequate progress after an appropriate period of time” while receiving general education.
Initial Eligibility Framework:Mandates that a CSE, upon receiving a written request for determination of initial eligibility of a child with a disability, initiate a referral and promptly consent to evaluate the student. Once a CSE receives informed parental consent to evaluate a student, it is required to conduct within 60 days the initial evaluation to determine and assess whether a student is eligible for special services under IDEA.
Programs and Services Framework:Mandates that a district implement within the same 60-day period specified above the programs and services—i.e. special education classroom settings, supplementary aids, transition services, positive behavioral supports—for all eligible students with disabilities. This framework also entitles eligible students to have these programs and services in effect at the beginning of each school year.
Least Restrictive Environment Framework:IDEA requires school districts to provide free appropriate education to students with disabilities in a “least restrictive environment,” meaning eligible students are to be afforded programs according to their individual needs, integrated among students without disabilities to the maximum extent possible, and located as close as possible to the student’s home. Restrictive environments include those outside of a student’s school district or programs that are to be done at home.
Manifest Determination Review Framework:Mandates that the CSE is responsible for developing positive behavioral strategies for students with disabilities whose behaviors “impede their learning or the learning of others.” Under this framework, a district is required to hold a “manifestation determination review” to be conducted by a district representative, CSE member and a parent when proposing a suspension of 10 consecutive days or more for a student with a disability. Suspensions that stem from a student’s disability or a district’s failure to implement an individual education plan must be revoked immediately, aside from certain exceptions.
Translation of Critical Documents in Parents’ Native Language Framework:School districts that seek consent to evaluate a student for special education eligibility are required to inform parents of all information relative to the activity in their native language. Similarly, notices that propose or refuse to “initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child or the provision of a free appropriate public education to the child” must also be submitted to parents in their native language.
As the lawsuit tells it, the defendants wholly fail to fulfill the responsibilities set by the above-described statutory frameworks. According to the plaintiffs, Rochester’s school district routinely fails to meet IDEA’s Child Find obligations, which the lawsuit says leaves many students with disabilities without special education programs to which they’re entitled. Secondly, the case charges that the defendants fail to address students’ eligibility determinations within the statutorily defined 60 days after receiving parental consent to conduct a special education evaluation. With regard to IDEA’s Programs and Services Framework, the plaintiffs claim Rochester City School District and the board of education fail to timely provide programs and services specified by students’ individualized education plans.
The lawsuit goes on to allege the defendants further run afoul of IDEA by failing to educate students with disabilities in the least restrictive environments possible. The Rochester City School District allegedly fails to properly handle “disciplinary changes in placement” for students with disabilities who display behavioral issues, the complaint continues, and fails to translate critical documents for parents into their native languages.
According to the plaintiffs, the district has known of the IDEA deficiencies alleged above for “over a decade.” The complaint can be read below.