Two-Decade Old Legal Battle Over Special Education Oversight Nears Resolution, Brings Major Changes


Publish Date:
March 19, 2017
  • Adams, Jane Meredith
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The California Department of Education said last week that it will comply with a federal court order to improve significantly its system for monitoring special education, after years of legal maneuvering to block the changes.

The department said it would end its legal challenges and follow a “corrective action plan” for special education monitoring issued in 2014 by the U.S. District Court of Northern California in San Francisco. On March 9, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a mandate upholding its December decision that the state must comply with the district court order to follow the corrective action plan. The department had sought a rehearing, after losing its appeal to overturn the order. Legal recourse would be an appeal to the high court, which the department said it had rejected.

Advocates for students who receive special education services welcomed the news. “The California Department of Education must now comply with the corrective action plan and reform its dysfunctional state-level monitoring system,” said William Koski, an attorney from Stanford Law School’s Youth & Education Law Project. Koski is one of several public advocacy attorneys representing the plaintiffs in a 1996 class action lawsuit, Emma C. et al. v. Delaine Eastin et al., that led to the corrective action plan.

The judges – Chief Judge Sidney Thomas and Judges Michelle Friedland Alex Kozinski – quickly got to the heart of the state’s approach to monitoring special education.

Friedland asked Koski: “Am I understanding that basically it’s the state who said if you’re challenging Ravenswood’s monitoring, you’re really challenging the whole state because it’s a uniform system? Is it the state that said we just have one system so it is the whole state?”

Koski: “The state has offered only one system, so that’s exactly right.”

“We are on the verge of having Ravenswood come into full compliance with the Ravenswood self-improvement plan,” Koski said. But before that can happen, he said, “the state must have in place a system to ensure compliance with the law.”

He added, “The federal court has looked at the state-level special education monitoring system and found it lacking under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and under the consent decree.”

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