After nearly six years of hard-fought litigation, U.S. District Court Judge Margaret M. Morrow granted final approval of a comprehensive settlement of a case involving multiple public entities including the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) for failing to ensure that eligible students detained in the Los Angeles County Jail system (“LACJ”) receive special education services.
The lawsuit was filed in December 2009 by Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC), a national non-profit legal center based in Los Angeles, and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP (Milbank), an international law firm headquartered in New York, on behalf of students eligible for special education services who are detained in the LACJ. Named Plaintiff, Michael Garcia, then a 19-year-old-student who was detained in the Los Angeles County Jail, had been eligible for and received special education services from early childhood through his detention at the county jail at age 18. Once detained, however, he quickly learned that no special education services were available to students at the jail. And although no one disputed that Michael was entitled to receive services, no education agency was willing to take responsibility for providing his services. The lawsuit claims that the failure to provide services violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other federal and state laws.
On September 14, 2015, Judge Morrow granted final approval of a far-reaching settlement agreement with LACOE. Once fully implemented, the settlement will transform Los Angeles County Jail via modifications by LACOE to help ensure that eligible students in the jail are timely provided with appropriate special education services. The settlement includes comprehensive procedures for identifying eligible students transferred from juvenile hall or camps to the LACJ, notifying the respective responsible districts of residence that are obligated to provide services to such students, and training of education personnel. The lawsuit is ongoing as to the remaining defendants.
“This settlement is a significant step towards ensuring students with disabilities in a custodial setting receive the special education services they need to be successful in life and obtain gainful employment upon release. It's through education that we break the cycle of recidivism,” said Anna Rivera, Senior Staff Attorney at DRLC.
Delilah Vinzon, Special Counsel at Milbank, commented: “Equal access to education is a fundamental right, and we are pleased to have had the opportunity to work with DRLC on this important matter. We look forward to continuing our efforts to establish a complete system for provision of special education and related services by entities involved at the Los Angeles County Jail.”
The mission of Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC) is to champion the rights of people with disabilities through education, advocacy, and litigation. DRLC maintains specialized programs that focus on areas of pressing concern to the disability community. Our client base includes people with all types of disabilities; people affected by cancer; children and students with disabilities; medically fragile children and people with terminal illness.