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L.A. Board Backs Overhaul of Special-Education System

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The Los Angeles school board gave final approval last week to a wide-ranging consent decree that would overhaul its special-education system.

The 80-page document is intended to settle a 1993 class action brought on behalf of all district students in special education or in need of such services. Board members approved the document late last week, 6 to 0 with one member abstaining.

But many of the changes outlined in the consent decree will not likely be seen in the classrooms of the nation's second-largest school system for some time. (See Education Week, Jan. 10, 1996.)

The document covers everything from how the district's roughly 65,000 special-education students are identified and tracked to where they are educated. Students with disabilities make up 10 percent of the district's enrollment of 649,000.

The target date for carrying out most of the reforms is the 1997-98 school year.

But lawyers in the case say many of the changes are likely to come before and after that date, too. The implementation schedule already has been bumped back after complaints by some parents that the process was moving too quickly.

Next month, a federal district court judge is expected to review the consent decree for approval. From there, consultants hired by the district and the plaintiffs will put forth plans for how the reforms should be carried out, what they will cost, and when they will be in place.

Each of those implementation plans then must go through an elaborate approval process, and until that happens, district lawyers said, the district will not know how much the reforms will cost--a sore point with some school board members.

Notifying district parents of the consent decree, which included translating the document and accompanying reports into eight languages, cost the district more than $100,000.

Parents' Concerns

At hearings in January, some parents of disabled children said they were concerned that they were being shut out of the process.

In response, the plaintiffs and the district revised the consent decree to spell out that parents will fill key roles on the various committees that will be set up to advise the district and the consultants.

Though the district has said that it does not plan to immediately close the 18 schools that serve primarily special-education students, the consent decree emphasizes that the district must make it easier for disabled students to attend regular schools and classrooms.

Many parents who attended the January hearings said that they had placed their children in separate special-education classrooms or schools because they felt that the regular education environment was hostile to the children, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.

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