YELP is lead counsel in a class action lawsuit filed in 1996 against the California Department of Education (CDE) and the Ravenswood City School District (the District) seeking to reform the District’s special education service delivery system and the CDE’s monitoring and oversight system in the District. Specifically, after witnessing the District’s failure to properly identify children with disabilities, assess those children, and provide them with a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment, a group of eight named plaintiffs brought the Emma C. litigation as a path-breaking school reform case. After intensive pre-trial litigation and arduous mediation, the parties reached a consent decree and a comprehensive corrective action plan designed to bring the District into compliance with federal law. Much has been accomplished now that we are five years into the implementation of the consent decree and corrective action plan. That progress is being threatened, though, by the local District’s critical staffing crisis that began in the Fall of 1997 and has left hundreds of students in the District without appropriate special education services.
Due to that crisis and the service deprivations, Judge Thelton Henderson asked the parties to brief his authority to order the State CDE to assume an enhanced role in providing services and oversight in the District. YELP students Rachel Velcoff (’08) and Craig Zieminski (’08) conducted extensive research into the court’s powers to enforce its orders and the responsibilities of state education agencies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Their brief was central in a December 20, 2007 order that directed the CDE to not only provide personnel to assist the district and to ensure that the staffing crisis is resolved, but also ordered that the CDE analyze the extent of the services denied to students and ensure that each such student is offered compensatory education for such deprivations. Currently, the parties are focusing on a recent court order to bring the District back to the compliance levels it had achieved prior to the staffing crisis.