Victory for Disabled Children in East Palo Alto

For Immediate Release — January 4, 2000

East Palo Alto Community Law Project
Bill Koski (650) 853-1600

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc.
Diane Lipton (510) 644-2555

Sagy Law Associates
Rony Sagy (415) 781-8700

Federal Judge Approves Settlement in Class Action Special Education Suit

East Palo Alto, California — After a three-year legal battle on behalf of hundreds of children with disabilities in the Ravenswood Elementary School District in East Palo Alto, California, Federal Court Judge Thelton E. Henderson gave final approval yesterday to an unprecedented settlement agreement in Emma C. v. Delaine Eastin, et al., Case No. C-96-4179, and commented that the agreement is “very well done”.

Recognized as one of the state’s poorest districts, Ravenswood’s almost entirely minority population has spent years struggling with education rights abuses, misallocated funding and ineffective monitoring by the California Department of Education.

In a first of its kind case in California, led by attorneys Bill Koski of the East Palo Alto Community Law Project, Diane Lipton of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), and Rony Sagy of Sagy Law Associates, Plaintiffs demanded that the Ravenswood School District and the California Department of Education comply with federal laws ensuring a “free appropriate public education” to all children with disabilities in the Ravenswood District.

In March 1999, Judge Henderson concluded that the facts of the case reported in a Needs Assessment study “paint an appalling and indeed a disturbing picture of the deficiencies in the services provided to children in the Ravenswood District with disabilities and special education needs.” In September, Judge Henderson was no more impressed with the efforts of the California Department of Education (CDE) to improve conditions in Ravenswood. Judge Henderson concluded that the CDE had done “too little, too late” in addressing the serious educational deficiencies.

“Approval of this agreement is a historic day for the community,” said Bill Koski of the East Palo Alto Community Law Project. “Finally, children with disabilities in East Palo Alto will receive the education and services that they deserve.”

The unprecedented settlement should result in a complete revamping of the District’s special education system. According to Diane Lipton of DREDF, “This settlement offers the District an unequalled opportunity to create a state of the art service delivery system that can be a model for other districts and state departments throughout California and the country. There are hundreds, if not thousands of East Palo Altos around the country. Hopefully, they are taking notice of this case. Monitoring compliance is extremely lax throughout this state and elsewhere.”

The settlement calls for a court-appointed monitor for a period of at least two years, implementation of a detailed corrective action plan, the building of a coordinated special and regular education system, substantial funds for consultation with national experts in literacy, bilingual assessments, instructional strategies, the integration of children with disabilities into regular classes, school administration and unlimited funds for compensatory education services to children previously denied services.

The settlement with the CDE has significant ramifications nationally, because in response to this case and pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, the CDE is revamping its monitoring and enforcement system. The CDE has also committed significant resources to fixing the local district and compensating students with educational and vocational services who are no longer attending Ravenswood.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” notes attorney Rony Sagy. “We hope that this case will raise the standard for statewide monitoring of school districts as legally required. Hopefully, the settlement will encourage cooperation between the District, parents and the entire educational community, a crucial step in developing an effective educational system for all children in East Palo Alto.”