Settlement Reached in Pennsylvania Special Education Suit

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A group of parents and the Pennsylvania education department have reached a tentative settlement of a 10-year-old class action that claimed special education students have been largely kept out of regular education classrooms.

Judith Gran, the lead lawyer for the 12 families and 11 advocacy groups involved in the federal lawsuit against the state, said that school districts that did place special education students in regular classrooms provided few, if any, accommodations for the students’ special needs.

“Instead of being mainstreamed, they were being main-dumped,” said Ms. Gran, who is with the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the state must establish an advisory panel of parents, advocates, and educators to review special education instruction throughout the state. In addition, the state must improve its monitoring of special education programs and provide on-site training to districts in inclusive educational practices.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Francis V. Barnes said he was pleased with the agreement.

“We think it results in a win-win situation, ending years of protracted litigation and improving educational opportunities for some of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable students,” he said in a press release.

Court Review Needed

Although the state and the plaintiffs have agreed to the settlement, which was submitted to the court Dec. 21, it could be months before it becomes final, Ms. Gran said. U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno of Philadelphia must review it, and the parents of the more than 250,000 special education students in the state must be notified.

“The big challenge will be having the [state education] department really influence 501 school districts,” said Steve Surovic, the executive director of the Arc of Pennsylvania. The advocacy group for people with disabilities was one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

Gia Royer, also a plaintiff, signed on to the lawsuit on behalf of her daughter Elizabeth, who has Down syndrome. Her daughter is now 18, and Ms. Royer said she will remain in school until she is 21.

Ms. Royer said she plans to push for employment-transition classes for her daughter, but she expects a fight—just as she has had to fight during most of her daughter’s schooling. Schools have been reluctant to place her daughter in regular classrooms and provided few special services, she said. The settlement of the lawsuit is too late for her daughter, Ms. Royer said.

“It’s going to benefit the kids behind her,” she said. However, she added, “I honestly still think parents are going to have to dig their heels in. I don’t think you can change that overnight.”

Vol. 24, Issue 16, Page 21

Published in Print: January 5, 2005, as Settlement Reached in Pennsylvania Special Education Suit
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