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Judge rejects D.C. bid to dismiss special ed case

A federal judge has denied a District motion to drop the 15-year-old injunction that oversees payments to private special education schools attended by the city's schoolchildren at public expense.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, citing improved performance and an influential U.S. Supreme Court ruling, had asked U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman to drop the injunction in the Petties class-action suit. The action was filed by parents of special needs students who attend private schools because District public schools cannot serve their needs. The injunction helps ensure that D.C. pays private schools and other service providers in a timely and accurate manner. The city spends about $280 million a year in tuition and transportation for an estimated 2,500 special-needs students in private schools, an expense it has been trying shrink.

Nickles cited the Horne case, in which the Supreme Court held that Arizona did not have to increase funding to English Language Learner programs in the Nogales Unified School District because changes in policies and operations made such court-enforced arrangements no longer necessary. Nickles has unsuccessfully employed Horne to leverage the District out of long-running federal class actions overseeing its child welfare agency and care of the developmentally disabled.

Friedman's ruling appears to have turned Nickles's aggressive legal strategy into a three-time loser. He said in an order issued Thursday that because the District and lawyers for special education families are in final negotiations to settle the Petties case, "it would be disruptive to dismantle its essential underpinnings." As for Horne, Friedman added, "The Court is convinced that the defendants have overstated both the relevance and significance of the Supreme Court's decision."

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By Bill Turque  | October 1, 2010; 5:40 PM ET
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$280 million for 2,500 students is $112,000 a year per child - about the salary of 2 starting teachers.

Posted by: edlharris | October 1, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Wow what a blower Old Peter tried to hit his last fast one but. Was knock down .Well Peter and. Fenty Rea it over. A change is. Comming. To DC .

Posted by: Darksecrettt | October 2, 2010 1:45 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Nickles was trying to push an overly broad reading of *Horne* in terms of spec. ed., but, hey, when the law is not on your side, it’s not unusual to clutch at straws. DCPS just needs to pay on time, especially since it has purposely chosen not to teach these students. These private schools take students DCPS has written off as un-teachable, and prepares them for college and the workforce (non-janitorial jobs). A DCPS OSE rep. stated at a recent forum that the majority of DCPS spec. ed. students are 12 years of age or older, but DCPS does not seem to be focusing on their needs and remediation. Why is that? Is it more of a write-off? Until DCPS can get its act together I’m all for the monitoring. Thank you, Judge Friedman.

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | October 4, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Has Nickles ever won an important case? On the other hand, my experience has been that no public school system does an acceptable job of accommodating special needs kids, except of course for ADHD (better living through chemistry). In fact, if a little boy is too energetic in Fairfax, they'd threaten the parents with special ed. unless he is drugged. Finally, the $ per child seems excessive, does that amount include the lawyers and hearing DCPS insists on before placement? My guess is well over half the money goes to "administative costs" to fight the outside placements. How much is actually paid to the schools? I'm sure they could negotiate a better deal if they tried.

Posted by: mcstowy | October 5, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

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