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Class of Spurned Special Ed Kids Reorganized

WASHINGTON (CN) - Disabled preschool children challenging Washington's woeful special education program must fight as subclasses, a federal judge ruled.

Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who ruled two years ago that the District of Columbia had failed its obligation to "society's most vulnerable," split the class into four subsections and appointed representatives under new guidelines established by the U.S. Supreme Court case Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes.

"Based on evidence presented at trial, the court found that the District provided special education services to less than 6% of its total child population, despite statistical projections that the District should identify and serve at least 12%," Lamberth wrote. "Of those disabled children who were identified, the District failed to provide timely evaluations to 25-45% and timely eligibility determinations to 56.75%."

Though the city reformed special education in response to the lawsuit, its policies were still "inadequate to meet its obligations under the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act]," the 33-page opinion states.

Early intervention as mandated by federal law works miracles, offering a success rate of around 80 percent of disabled children who receive special education services, but the class says the city "has denied this miracle to a large number of disabled children," according to the ruling.

The class says that D.C. has repeatedly failed to identify kids with special needs, evaluate them or determine their eligibility for special education.

But after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes, classes had to establish commonality to be certified, and the city successfully appealed the certification of the class of disabled preschoolers.

The D.C. Circuit remanded the case back to Lamberth after reversing his certification.

Lamberth declined to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction, but did cut the class into four subsets of students between the ages of three and five divided by how they access special education services. He also denied the class's motion to reinstate the court's findings of liability and remedial orders.

Now that the class has been divided into subsections, the judge agreed to allow the class to amend its complaint.

According to the ruling, the district was cited by the federal Office of Special Education Programs for each of the four years prior to the trial and after its reform efforts for its denial of a free and public education to disabled students.

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