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Halt to Special-Ed. Plan Sought

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A coalition of New York City educational and advocacy groups has filed a lawsuit in state court to block a plan to decentralize special-education services for the majority of the city's handicapped students.

Under the plan, which was adopted by the city's school board last December on a 4-to-3 vote, New York's 32 community school districts would assume control of special-education services for nearly 77,000 mildly and moderately handicapped elementary- and middle-school students.

One central agency, the division of special education, currently administers services for those students.

The new system, which school officials maintain will better serve handicapped children, is scheduled to take effect in September. (See Education Week, Jan. 14, 1987.)

In the lawsuit, which was filed on April 30, the eight organizations that make up the coalition argue that the board's plan violates state and federal laws protecting the rights of the handicapped, as well as the state law that decentralized the city's public schools.

That law, they assert, places the city's public-schools chancellor in charge of the district's educational programs for handicapped children, and does not give him the authority to delegate that responsibility.

In addition, they argue, the board's plan would fragment special-education services, undermining "the legal requirements for coherent planning to meet the individual needs of each particular child.''

The suit also contends that the board adopted the plan without consulting the community school boards; providing methods of monitoring quality and legal compliance; giving parents adequate notice; and projecting a budget.

The lawsuit asks the state Supreme Court in Manhattan--a trial-level court--to declare the plan illegal, and permanently to enjoin the board "from implementing any plan to decentralize special-education services, until such time as the legislature authorizes decentralization, and reasonable implementation plans are adopted.''

It also asks the court for a preliminary injunction to prohibit the board from implementing the plan until a final ruling in the case is rendered.

Board's Response

The board last week stood behind the decentralization move.

"Our lawyers have given us the opinion that this action is lawful,'' Robert H. Terte, a spokesman for the board, said. "And we believe that it is doable within the timetable that has been established.''

The court has scheduled a May 7 hearing for the board to respond to the charges raised in the complaint, according to a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, one of the groups that filed the suit.

The other seven groups are ASPIRA of New York Inc., the Association for Neurologically Impaired and Brain Injured Children Inc., the Council of Supervisors and Administrators of the City of New York, the Manhattan chapter of the New York Association for the Learning Disabled, the New York City School Boards Association Inc., the Organization to Assure Services for Exceptional Students Inc., and United Cerebral Palsy of New York City Inc.

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