Government officials must act immediately to provide distance learning comparable to last year for students with disabilities, as well as meeting their general needs, the judge ruled.
The court’s ruling, in the form of an interim restraining order, issued on Thursday, will bring immediate relief to 15 students – and dozens more may follow – but it has widespread implications for students across California.
The practice in question stems from Assembly Bill 130, which puts in place rules to ensure that school districts have provided and prioritized personal learning for all students this fall after the pandemic led to campus closures the previous year. But the law also had unintended consequences. The alleged harm in this case was that students who wanted or even required distance learning faced delays and barriers that prevented them from attending school and not receiving the services they needed.
“The court finds that the plaintiffs have demonstrated irreparable harm,” wrote Federal Judge Susan Ileston of the Northern District of California. “The statements submitted by the plaintiffs show that AB130 forces parents to choose between harming their disabled children or risking their health and safety. The declarations detail the very real health risks these students face if they are required to attend full-time school as a result of their disability and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the learning losses that students are experiencing and will experience as a result. missing instruction. “
MG’s mother, a 10-year-old student with Down Syndrome, said in a statement that her son’s respiratory problems put him at undue risk if he contracted COVID-19.
Previously, he attended a “special mid-to-severe day class,” designed for special education students with more intensive needs. Due to the pandemic, his curriculum was amended to allow distance learning, and he had remote access to all of his accommodations and services until June 2021.
But in the new school year, which began this fall, she was told that distance learning was generally not available. The only remote option – due to AB130 – was a form of independent research that lacked the services her son needed.
“M.G. has been at home without any access to academic education for about a month, ”his mother said in a mid-September statement. “On September 15, 2021, I started paying a tutor. I believe that I am being forced to choose between keeping my child safe and giving him the opportunity to get an education. ”
About 12% of California public school students – about 721,000 – have a disability. Many – perhaps most – of these students have returned to campuses. An unknown but significant number of families wanted their children to continue their education remotely.
The seven students involved in the lawsuit are from Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school system. The county has acknowledged widespread and widespread problems with their independent curriculum called City of Angels. According to parents and advocates, these problems affected all types of students, but students with disabilities faced particular challenges.
LA Unified did not immediately respond to the court’s decision.
Other school districts have had similar problems. Other districts in which students participate include Capistrano Unified, Long Beach Unified, San Diego Unified, San Francisco Unified, and Anaheim Unified.
“These are some of the largest counties in the state,” said lawyer David Herman, who was part of a group representing the parents who filed the lawsuit. “The problem is very common.”
Lawyers have not sued individual school districts – and the names of school districts have been crossed out in parent statements submitted to The Times. Instead, the lawsuit is being fought against the State of California, the State Board of Education, and the California Department of Education.
The State Department of Education said in a statement that it is “disappointed” with the decision and that it is working to ensure that the rights of these students are protected. These efforts included notifying school systems of their “legal obligation to serve students with disabilities.”
“California will continue to work hard to ensure that all students receive the education they deserve and need to live and thrive in our state,” the statement said.
In another statement, the mother of a 13-year-old student with autism and other disabilities said she was told that distance learning and independent learning were not available.
“They said that I would need to provide a doctor’s certificate on why [C.B.] cannot go to school in person so that they can consider studying in a home hospital, ”she said. “They told me that C would only get five minutes of tuition a day if someone [to] come home to do your academic training. They said
they are ready for me only for full-time education. “