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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