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Federal Court Reinstates Spec. Ed. Suit Against State of Calif., School District

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A federal court has revived a class action against a small, mostly minority school district in California that students allege is violating state and federal special education laws.

Last week, a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco ruled that eight students in the 5,000-student Ravenswood City School District, in East Palo Alto, Calif., can sue the district over alleged violations of federal and state special education laws, as well as the state, for allegations that it failed to enforce the laws.

The move reverses the judge's previous dismissal of the students' case in July. It followed the court's admission of new evidence in the case, Emma C. v. Eastin, last month.

Judge Thelton E. Henderson wrote that he decided to waive the requirement that the students exhaust all administrative remedies before pursuing the case in federal court because those remedies could not "provide the district-wide relief the plaintiffs seek." Seven of the students also have filed administrative cases with the state, but those cases are still pending.

District and state officials could not be reached for comment about last week's ruling.

Complaints Against State

Eight of the approximately 450 special education students in the district are listed as plaintiffs in the class action. They are suing on the behalf of all of the district's students with disabilities, requesting corrective services from the district and better monitoring from the state of California.

The Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund, an advocacy group in Berkeley, Calif., is helping the students sue the district on nearly a dozen charges, including failure to identify and evaluate students, not integrating special education students with their nondisabled peers, and not providing proper individualized education programs. Federal law guarantees that students with disabilities receive IEPs tailored to their learning and special education needs.

"The [district's] special education department's records are in a terrible disarray, with no management or organization," Diane Lipton, a lawyer with the group, asserted.

The group also names the state of California in the lawsuit, charging the state with a failure to enforce violations it had cited in the district's special education programs, Ms. Lipton said.

The Ravenswood district is in an impoverished area with nearly 100 percent minority students, mostly Hispanic. According to Ms. Lipton, the district also did not provide interpreters to evaluate non-English-speaking children for special education services.

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