A federal judge has greenlighted legal advocates’ lawsuit seeking to represent all of Oregon’s behaviorally disabled schoolchildren who have allegedly been illegally deprived of their right to full-time schooling.
Based on expert testimony presented by the plaintiffs, the case suggests a pattern of local public education agencies sending hundreds or thousands of students with behavioral health problems home early from school, Judge Ann Aiken ruled in U.S. District Court in Eugene.
It is permissible to send behaviorally disabled students home early, but only under narrow circumstances and only if schools have adequately provided services to help the kids correct their behaviors, she said.
The expert contended that had not happened, in violation of the students’ rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, as well as state laws.
The case against the state Education Department and the governor began in January 2019 on behalf of four public schoolchildren from different districts and parts of the state.
In her decision filed late last week, Aiken agreed that attorneys from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Disability Rights Oregon, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and pro bono attorneys that made a strong case that the practice is statewide and that the state failed in its duty to put a stop to it.
“Misuse of shortened school days to address disability-related behaviors is widespread among Oregon schools,” Aiken wrote in her order. The state disagreed and argued that the plaintiffs failed to meet all the requirements for class certification, potentially creating grounds for appeal if they cannot prove their case at trial.
In any event, Aiken ruled that the plaintiffs’ lawyers will represent all the children who have been denied the rights at issue or are at significant risk.
In class-action lawsuits, plaintiffs band together in a united front or “class,” and further judgments may benefit original and new plaintiffs alike if they win the case.