The ACLJ continues to go to bat for parents and kids all across the country as they struggle to not fall behind due to school closures and at-home learning during the Coronavirus pandemic. And we’re scoring victories for families.
As we told you shortly after we launched our School Choice Initiative and encouraged parents who felt their kids were being denied educational opportunities due to Coronavirus school closures and at-home learning to contact us, we’ve heard from more than 1,900 individual families all over America.
Each family had a unique problem, whether it was lack of proper equipment like laptops or tablets, or no Internet connectivity, or special needs that weren’t being addressed by their school district. Our attorneys have been hard at work reaching out to these families, listening to their needs and determining the best course of action.
In one recent victory, our legal team sent an Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) letter on behalf of an Idaho family whose child had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that was not being fulfilled. The day after receiving our letter, the school contacted the family and requested a meeting with them to discuss the issues the family was facing.
The family and the school reached an arrangement that included in-person schooling two days a week for the IEP student, as well as transportation for the student on those days. The school also provided the family with a wireless hot-spot and two laptops to assist the IEP student and the family’s two other children in their remote learning. The family was very grateful for our assistance in facilitating discussion with the school; and while more in-person education for the IEP student would be ideal, the assistance that the school has now provided is helping improve the situation.
We also have sent ten letters on behalf of parents of children with special needs in North Carolina, California, Michigan, Georgia, Nevada, and Nebraska.
In each situation in North Carolina, we asked the school to provide either in-person, one-on-one assistance for the child for a few hours each week, or for the school to reimburse the parent for the cost of having a private in-home tutor multiple times a week.
In California, we represent the family of a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Before the COVID-19 school closures, he was cognitively at grade level, but emotionally very immature where he could not function in a typical classroom. The child was placed into a special day class for behavior-challenged children, and his class had modified behavior therapy built into the classroom instruction. The curriculum also included special visits with the school psychologist to help them deal with unfavorable outcomes and make better choices. It was a small class, around 6 students, and the class covered 4th, 5th, and 6th grade subject matter. He also had weekly speech services, individual and group, and Occupational Therapy (OT) consults per his IEP.
The child would have been returning as a 5th grader this fall had the school not closed due to Coronavirus precautions. Unfortunately, during the school shutdown, he was having daily meltdowns over even minimal schoolwork that was assigned to him, and he regressed because his IEP was not being followed. His parents had him tested at a Kumon learning center, and he was no longer testing at his class level or age. He was enrolled at Kumon for several hours a week at additional expense to work on his IEP, behavioral issues, and OT. His parents requested that the school reimburse them for the cost of the program now that the school is not meeting in-person this fall.
Now in a HUGE VICTORY for the family, we have obtained a signed settlement agreement from the school district for $1,680 to reimburse the parents. We are only waiting on the school board to ratify this agreement at their next meeting.
In Nevada, we represent the family of another child diagnosed with ASD who was born with a cleft lip, is non-verbal, and uses a communication device. Before the COVID school closures, he received private Speech and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy five times a week, OT twice a week, and Physical Therapy (PT) once a week through his IEP.
His parents have seen progress throughout the development of his IEP, his therapy, and his placement in a self-contained autism classroom. Since his instruction has gone completely virtual, they observed that the child has experienced several behavioral regressions and is struggling to learn in an environment where his IEP is not being followed.
Our clients, his parents, have requested that the school reimburse them for the cost of a special needs learning center and private one-on-one tutoring sessions with a licensed teacher for 3 hours a week, as long as the school does not return to in-person learning. We are continuing to work on this situation.
In Georgia, we’ve assisted families in obtaining crucial school resources needed during distance learning, including laptops. Just a few days after one school received our letter, our client was notified that the school would provide both of her sons much needed laptops to complete their distance learning program.
In Nebraska, we represented the family of a child dealing with a severe brain injury, as well as cerebral palsy and blindness. He is fully dependent on an adult caregiver for his daily needs and has a specialized IEP with PT, OT, Speech, and Vision therapy. He was enrolled in a sensory curriculum within the school district that included water therapy, art therapy, music therapy, and a sensory room and sensory gym to fully meet the holistic needs of this type of child.
However, once the school district closed in-person instruction, he was not receiving these crucial services that addressed his IEP, or receiving the additional physical support he needed. His mother struggled to provide all of the help her son required by herself, and she asked that the school supply the required IEP therapies in-person, as it should be doing. Now the school has agreed to open for special needs children. That’s exactly what these families are paying for through their taxes and this is the best possible result for their children.
In addition to our work helping families of students facing difficulties due to COVID-related school closures, we also continue defending students facing religious discrimination and free speech issues in school. In another situation in Nebraska, we have a client whose daughter was told to turn her sweatshirt inside out because of offensive language. What her sweatshirt said was: “Virginity Rocks.” The shirt represented a church youth group program she attended. The school’s dress code does not prohibit any language other than gang-related symbols and violence. While this doesn’t necessarily affect the child’s ability to learn, it’s still an infringement on her rights. We demanded the school explain why her free speech was being hindered. After receiving our letter, the school’s principal called the parent and wanted to discuss the reasoning, but ultimately after our involvement, the principal agreed that the student can continue to wear the sweatshirt.
In many cases, where we see a very real need or legal issue, our first step has been to send a letter to the school district, encouraging them to resolve it without further legal intervention. However, in most other cases, our team has been able to advise parents through contacting the appropriate school officials to resolve their issues. As a result, many families have been able to follow our advice to speak with the right school officials, who have helped them resolve their issues.
The work of the ACLJ does not stop. We are encouraged by these victories, but we must continue our fight to ensure every American family receives educational justice.
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