Judge Slams Schools for Effort to Void Settlement

     CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge denied Chicago Public Schools’ attempt to vacate a 14-year-old settlement agreement with disabled students, calling the move “mystifying and disturbing.”
     In 1992, special needs children filed a class action against Chicago Public Schools (CPS), on behalf of more than 50,000 students who were segregated by CPS based on their disabilities.
     Two years later, the parties agreed to settle the case, after the reports by outside experts found that CPS’s practice of placing children in educational programs by the categories of their disabilities was seriously out of compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) .
     For more than 14 years, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman presided over the administration of a consent decree governing the placement of children with disabilities. The judge extended the settlement agreement after determining that CPS was not in full compliance, but by 2010, he was satisfied with the continued efforts of CPS to meet the goals outlined in the settlement agreement. He ordered that the court monitoring of the consent decree would end in September 2012.
     However, in March 2012, “someone at CPS or in the City of Chicago administration made a decision to disavow the progress achieved [in this case], thus incurring substantial costs and needlessly prolonging this litigation,” according to the judgment. CPS filed a motion to vacate the consent decree that it had agreed to twice before.
     Gettleman denied CPS’s “meritless” motion, and questioned why “within months before the termination of the Settlement Agreement, CPS has decided to waste scarce public resources by filing a near frivolous motion to decertify the class and vacate the judgment to which it had agreed in 1998 and again in 2010. This effort is both mystifying and disturbing, driven perhaps by considerations that have no place in the administration of CPS’s obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”
     CPS argued that the 7th Circuit’s recent decision in Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Public Schools significantly changed the law governing the consent decree in this case.
     But Gettleman disagreed: “The IDEA has not materially changed. CPS is still required to educate children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. The IDEA still prohibits segregating children needing special education services based on the categories of their disabilities, which was the primary violation addressed by the Consent Decree. Thus, there has been no ‘change’ in the underlying substantive law that justifies revision or, as CPS requests, revocation of the consent decree.”
     In addition, “the procedural and factual posture of Jamie S. is so radically different from the instant case that it cannot possibly serve as a basis for vacating the consent decree,” Gettleman said.
     “(U)nlike CPS, the defendant in Jamie S. (the Milwaukee Public Schools) had never consented to a settlement or anything else that acknowledged class-wide relief… In the instant case, as noted above, CPS agreed to a class-wide settlement that incorporated relief for the class that had been certified by Judge Leinenweber, and has operated under that agreement in excess of fourteen years,” the judgment found.
     “Once again, in the instant case, unlike Jamie S., plaintiffs’ claims are based on systemic failures and the defendant now seeking to decertify the class agreed to systemic reforms that specifically eliminated the types of individual issues that led to the Jamie S. decision,” the court concluded.

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