The School Board of Volusia County, Florida faces a proposed class action in the wake of a U.S. Justice Department investigation that found the school district had discriminated against students with disabilities by denying them equal access to certain programs and services.
According to the case, students incurred damages and are owed compensation as a result of the Volusia County School Board’s discriminatory conduct, which the lawsuit says included needlessly removing students with disabilities, many of whom were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), from the classroom; disciplining them for disability-related behavior; and otherwise denying them equal access to the school district’s programs and services.
“The Defendant, The School Board of Volusia County, Florida, failed to provide reasonable accommodations for persons who need attendant care and who also have cognitive limitations to enable them to participate in the educational process,” the complaint charges.
The 21-page case centers on a U.S. Justice Department investigation that began in April 2018 in response to a complaint filed on behalf of 11 students with disabilities, including nine who have been diagnosed with ASD, enrolled in schools across the district. The complaint alleged that the Volusia County school board had engaged in “systemic discrimination” against students with disabilities by “relying on overly punitive disciplinary tactics and law enforcement” to address behaviors that were known or should have been known to be related to the students’ disabilities. Moreover, the complaint claimed the defendant unlawfully excluded students with disabilities from participating in the schools’ programs and services by frequently requiring their parents to pick them up or keep them home without a formal suspension.
After investigating the allegations, the Justice Department concluded that the Volusia County school board had unlawfully excluded students with disabilities by unnecessarily removing them from the classroom, including through the use of law enforcement and a misuse of Florida’s Baker Act, which, under certain criteria, allows for the involuntary admission of a person with a mental illness to a psychiatric facility for up to 72 hours. The department also found that the defendant’s staff regularly failed to implement “necessary behavioral supports” and lacked proper training on how to respond to students’ disability-related behaviors.
According to the case, the defendant entered into a settlement agreement with the federal government that required the school board to, among other changes, stop excluding students with disabilities from the schools’ benefits and services and make “reasonable modifications” to its policies and practices in order to maintain compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The plaintiff, who filed the suit on behalf of anyone who previously attended or currently attends schools operated by the defendant, seeks an award of damages to those who suffered harm as a result of the Volusia County School Board’s alleged violations of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act.
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