Parents Fight, Sue for Special Education in California

A trial appears to be imminent in the lawsuit brought by parents of Morgan Hill special education students that could see services for disabled students in California substantially expand in both scope and cost. Parents are claiming that the state is not doing enough to live up to the guarantees made by the government that special needs students receive a free and appropriate education, according to the Mercury News report.

Plaintiffs – now including parents of special education students throughout the whole of California – are alleging that the quality of education provided to the disabled in the state is abysmal and that the systems in place to identify students with special needs and provide them with additional help is inadequate.

Parents also claim that they’re being consistently left out of the process to determine what are the best educational options for their children. Even when individual districts blatantly fail in their obligations, according to the parents bringing the lawsuit, asking the state to intervene has been pointless.

A victory could possibly force districts to offer more programs to more children with physical, mental and social-emotional disabilities. As it is now, parents claim, districts put up unreasonable challenges to those seeking special services for their children.

“I fought the district for 10 years,” trying to overcome denial of requests for services, McNulty said. “I believe it’s systemic in Morgan Hill. There are a lot of great teachers there. But they don’t realize that what they’re doing is noncompliant” with the law.

Providing additional services for special needs students has been required since four decades ago when Congress made those services mandatory. Schools were ordered to begin testing students to identify those who need special services and then make arrangements to offer them.

It was not a mandate districts around California enthusiastically embraced, mainly due to the fact that accommodations for special education students are typically expensive and require hiring of trained personnel.

he federal government requires the program but pays only a fraction of its share; the state also pays only a portion, leaving districts to pick up the rest while expressing resentment about the “encroachment” on their tight budgets. And the expense can be considerable. San Jose Unified spokesman Paul Higgins says the district budgeted $42 million this school year for special education, or 14 percent of the operating budget.

Plaintiffs believe that the state refusing to enforce the disability education mandate is the chief issue in the lawsuit. Although parents can complain to the state when they feel their district is not meeting the special education requirements, in the past, the California Department of Education has sided with districts the majority of the time.