Class Settlement in D.C. Special Ed Case Lives On

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge rejected the District of Columbia’s request to end years of monitoring of its special education system, holding that only the court-ordered monitor can say whether the city fulfilled its obligations under a standing consent decree.
     Two separate classes sued the D.C. Public School system in 1997, accusing the city of shirking due process hearings and not issuing timely decisions in regard to special education students’ access to public education.
     A federal judge combined the two cases, now known as the consolidated Blackman/Jones case, and ruled that city broke the law and should pay a penalty.
     In a 2006 consent decree, the city agreed to provide a compensatory education to the kids hurt by the inadequacies of the district’s special education system. To make sure the district fulfilled its obligations, the court assigned a monitor to keep track for the city’s progress in righting past wrongs.
     But last year, the city moved to terminate the consent decree and dismiss the case, declaring that it had satisfied the terms; this prompted the plaintiffs in both cases to file for an extension, and to ask that the court monitor verify the city’s claims.
     They contend the city has repeatedly declared the success of its efforts only to be found non-compliant by the court’s auditor.
     “If the past is prologue, the Court will be unable to determine whether defendants have in fact complied with the terms of the Consent Decree until the Court Monitor has conducted his own independent assessment,” states U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in his order. “This is particularly true considering the fact that defendants have asserted compliance with the Consent Decree in 2010, 2011, and 2013, but have been found non-compliant in each of those years after an independent evaluation by the Court Monitor.”
     The judge dismissed the city’s motion and agreed to plaintiff’s request for an extension of the decree.
     D.C. public schools have been plagued with scandals and poor performance for years. Last week, a federal judge gave standing to sue to 22 former principals and assistant principals who say they were fired for being black or Hispanic.
     But in July, the parents of kids displaced by numerous school closings in poor city neighborhoods weren’t so lucky: a federal judge ruled that their claims of discrimination could not be heard in court, but instead needed to be addressed in elections.

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