Complaint Against Oakland Unified for “System-wide Violations of Rights of Children with Disabilities”
May 3, 2015
By Post Staff
Disability Rights of California has filed a complaint against the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) on behalf of the district’s special education students, alleging that “OUSD’s policies and practices result in system-wide violations of the rights of children with disabilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),” according to the nonprofit agency.
“We are moving forward. We asked the state for a mediation process to resolve the complaint, and the state has assigned a mediator,” said Maggie Roberts, associate managing attorney at the disability rights agency, which receives federal funding to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
The agency is representing 10 named students with disabilities and a class of all special education students in the district. The complaint was filed in March with the California Department of Education.
The complaint alleges systemic failures that include not providing qualified staff; not offering special education programs and services based on disability related needs; and not providing or even budgeting funds to provide individualized accommodation such as curriculum modifications and behavioral supports to students with disabilities in general education classrooms.
In addition, the district is not meeting the needs of Limited English families, lacking staff to provide interpretation and translation services to non-English language proficient parents, who receive documents and notices in English rather than their primary language;
Further, the district has failed to provide students with mental health or behavioral needs services in the required least restrictive setting and instead placing them in segregated environments, according to the complaint.
The complaint also says OUSD’s systemic noncompliance with IDEA has a disparate impact on students of color, especially Latino students whose families are not proficient in English.
Of 5,074 OUSD students in Special Education, 1,880 are Latino, and 2,072 are African American. Together, they make up they make up 78 percent in the district’s special education program.
According to the state, about 10 percent of California students receive special education services. Most common are specific learning disabilities, such as reading difficulties, which are connected to students falling severely behind in their classes. Second most common are speech and language impairments.
One of the named complainants, TA, is a nine-year old boy in the third grade with a developmental disability. Because OUSD did not provide TA with any services for the first seven weeks of this school year, and did not implement his legally required Individualized Education Program (IEP) during the last school year, TA’s mother requested a hearing, the complaint said.
As a result, OUSD agreed to provide the needed services. Four months later, it still has not provided TA with agreed upon services, including behavior support services, individual speech therapy, or a one-to-one aide in his classroom.
Instead, OUSD wants to move TA from his school and place him in a segregated nonpublic school, which would be his eighth placement since preschool, the complaint said.TA’s mother is frustrated by the district’s failure to assist her son, the complaint continues, quoting the child’s mother.
“My son has fallen far behind in school, and his behavior problems have gotten worse. Four months ago, the OUSD finally agreed to provide TA with all of the services he needs. OUSD is still not providing my son with what was agreed to. I don’t know what else to do to get the school district to give my son what he needs.”
According to Roberts, attorney at the agency, Disability Rights California usually files complaints on behalf of individuals. However, in this case, OUSD has long-term violations that are systemic, and district fails to implement changes even after hearings where they promised to institute remedies.
“This is unprecedented,” said Roberts in an interview with the Post, explaining that the agency has asked the state to become involved.
“The state (Department of Education) is ultimately responsible for implementing federal and state laws, and we wanted to make sure the state is aware, that even when cases went to complaint, OUSD didn’t implement settlement agreements.”
Roberts continued, “This is a problem that has been around for a long time. They have found ways to limit the programs. They do not offer services or have plans in place to deliver services.”
As a result of failure to offer adequate services, many of Oakland’s special education students drop out of school or barely graduate. “Many don’t go on to college or community college because they’re not equipped for that,” she said.
There are special education programs that exist, which OUSD could offer, that provide the latest computer technology and teachers equipped with up-to-date teaching methods.
In these programs, children of parents – particularly more affluent parents – do better in school and often go on to college.
“If the state does not do something to do to fix (these issues), and the district doesn’t do anything, then we will we will consider litigation,” said Roberts.
OUSD is well aware of these issues, she said. A 2013 report commissioned by OUSD found widespread deficiencies in its special education program, and is available at www.ousd.k12.ca.us/SpecialEdAssessment