New Orleans public schools have agreed to ensure that students with disabilities are properly treated and educated while also being given the chance to attend the schools they want to attend, under a settlement announced Friday (12/19).
The Southern Poverty Law Center sued state and city school officials in 2010, alleging students with disabilities did not have equal access to schools in New Orleans and were not protected from discrimination. The law center sued on behalf of children with a variety of disabilities including autism, hyperactivity and bipolar disorder.
Under the settlement, the city's schools would set up a system to identify children with disabilities, place them in schools and help them achieve educational goals. Individual schools would also be required to do more to make sure they are handling students with disabilities properly. An independent monitor would be put into place to track efforts to meet the settlement's requirements.
The deal needs to be approved by U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey. The suit was filed against the Louisiana Department of Education and the Orleans Parish School Board. Since Katrina struck in 2005, most of the public schools in New Orleans were taken over by the state education agency and turned into charter schools.
In its suit, the law center claimed the state violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Roughly 11 percent of the city’s students are considered to have disabilities, according to Leslie Jacobs, the founder of New Orleans-based Educate Now! and a former state school board member.
The original lawsuit outlined cases in which parents of children with disabilities were unable to find schools that could accommodate their children. In one case, the suit said, a parent was told a child “was no longer welcome to return to school because of a manifestation of his disability.” The child, then 15, had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit with hyperactivity disorders.