Stacie B. Royster
Federal Judge Denies State’s Motion to Dismiss in Case
Seeking Equal Education for New Orleans Special Needs Students
NEW ORLEANS, LA, April 26, 2011 — This afternoon, a federal judge denied the Louisiana Department of Education’s (LDE) motion to dismiss in the case brought on behalf of thousands of New Orleans students with special needs. These students are denied access to New Orleans public schools and often pushed into schools unable to provide them with the educational services they are due under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“Today was a great day for the thousands of New Orleans students and families who continue to struggle to access even the most basic public education services,” said Eden Heilman, lead attorney on the case for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The court has recognized that these students allege serious violations of federal law and will allow them to have their day in court. In the wake of this decision, we hope the state of Louisiana will recognize the importance of removing the barriers to public education that currently plague New Orleans. We welcome an opportunity to work with the state to craft a plan to ensure compliance with federal law for equal access for all students.”
In its motion for preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs asked the court to prevent the LDE from continuing its harmful practices during the ongoing lawsuit. Currently, the LDE has fallen far short of identifying students with disabilities, accommodating them so that they receive the same quality of education as non-disabled students, and ensuring disciplinary protections for disabled students. Among other requests, the court was asked to require the LDE to implement broader outreach efforts to identify students with disabilities and to educate the students and their parents about their rights under the law.
“This represents a critical victory for these families, who have been tireless advocates for their children,” said Brenda Shum, senior counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Educational Opportunities Project, who argued the motion. “These families give a face and voice to the unintended but devastating consequences of the state’s abdication of their responsibility to ensure that students with disabilities have access to equal and meaningful educational opportunities in New Orleans.”
The federal class action lawsuit, P.B. v. Pastorek (2:10-cv-04049), was filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Southern Poverty Law Center, the law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, the Community Justice section of the Loyola Law Clinic in New Orleans and the Southern Disability Law Center.
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The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment discrimination, voting, education and environmental justice. For more information about the LCCRUL, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala., is a nonprofit civil rights organization with offices in New Orleans, La, Jackson, MS, Miami, Fl. And Atlanta, GA, that combats bigotry and discrimination through litigation, education and advocacy. For more information, see www.splcenter.org.