The Youth and Education Law Project (“YELP”) recently achieved a great victory in its long-standing class action regarding special education in East Palo Alto, Emma C., et al. v. Eastin, et al. After nearly two years of disappointing negotiations with the State of California that led to a motion practice battle before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California this past spring, on July 2, 2014, Judge Thelton E. Henderson ruled unequivocally for YELP’s clients – the students of East Palo Alto.
YELP and its attorneys William Koski and Carly Munson – along with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund – represent hundreds of special education students and their families in the Ravenswood City School District (“Ravenswood”) in East Palo Alto. Pursuant to a 2003 Consent Decree, Ravenswood and the California Department of Education (“CDE”) have been implementing a systemic reform plan to overhaul the school district’s delivery of special education services for 11 years, as overseen by a court-appointed monitor. Anticipating an eventual end to the Court’s jurisdiction and the monitor’s oversight, that Consent Decree requires that the CDE have in place a statewide special education monitoring system that is capable of ensuring continued compliance with applicable laws long after the Court terminates its jurisdiction.
Ravenswood is expected to achieve full compliance with the reform plan in the near future. Accordingly, the Court posed the critical question of whether CDE’s current system can and will ensure Ravenswood’s continued compliance with the law and prevent future backsliding in the special education service delivery achieved through this 18-year lawsuit.
In January 2014, the court monitor issued a decisive 88-page report determining that the CDE’s monitoring system is inadequate as applied to Ravenswood. The monitor’s report included 42 specific determinations regarding the CDE’s insufficient monitoring system and recommended that the Court order the monitor to develop a Corrective Action Plan and hire an outside consultant to develop the Corrective Action Plan.
The State then moved Judge Henderson to set aside the monitor’s determinations. YELP vigorously opposed the State’s motion. YELP law students Samantha Lefland (‘15) and Alison Bloch (‘15) took on a significant role in researching and drafting plaintiffs’ persuasive brief in opposition.
Far from setting aside the determinations, on July 2, 2014, the Court upheld the entirety of the monitor’s findings and authorized the monitor to move forward with hiring a consultant to develop a Corrective Action Plan to overhaul and reform the CDE’s statewide special education monitoring system.
The State has chosen to appeal the Court’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In the meantime, the District Court has denied a motion by the State to stay implementation of its ruling until the conclusion of the pending appeal. Unless the Ninth Circuit stays implementation of the ruling, the monitor will soon move forward with developing a Corrective Action Plan to reform and make effective the CDE’s statewide special education monitoring system as applied to Ravenswood. ◊