Springfield parents suit against Springfield schools

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Springfield parents of mentally ill children file class action suit against Springfield, Springfield schools, mayor and school superintendent claiming unequal education, opportunities for children.

Text of Springfield parents suit against Springfield schools

  • UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

    S.S., a minor, by his mother, S.Y., on behalf of himself and other similarly situated students, and the Parent/Professional Advocacy League,

    Plaintiffs,

    v.

    CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS; DOMENIC SARNO, in his official capacity as Mayor of City of Springfield; SPRINGFIELD PUBLIC SCHOOLS; DANIEL J. WARWICK, in his official capacity as Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools,

    Defendants.

    ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )

    CIVIL ACTION NO. 14-30116

    CLASS ACTION COMPLAINT

    I. INTRODUCTION

    1. The City of Springfield (City), Springfield Public Schools (SPS), Mayor

    Sarno, and Superintendent Warwick (collectively Defendants) operate a discriminatory public

    school system that consigns hundreds of children with a mental health disability to the separate

    and inferior Public Day School. The Public Day School is not a therapeutic learning

    environment. Children in the Public Day School do not have the same opportunity to learn and

    to graduate that is afforded their peers without a disability in Springfields other schools

    (neighborhood schools). Academic expectations are low. Education is not the primary

    mission of the Public Day School, and students make little academic progress there.

    2. Instead of fostering learning, the focus of the Public Day School is on behavior

    control using drastic methods including dangerous physical restraints, inappropriate forced

    isolation in padded rooms, and repeated arrests and suspensions for minor offenses. Far from

    Case 3:14-cv-30116 Document 1 Filed 06/27/14 Page 1 of 21

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    being therapeutic, placement in the Public Day School is more likely to exacerbate a childs

    mental health condition than improve it.

    3. The Public Day School is also physically segregated from SPSs neighborhood

    schools. It is located on three campuses and students consigned to the Public Day School are

    afforded zero opportunity to interact with students in SPSs neighborhood schools.

    4. Tragically, the children placed in the Public Day School do not need to be there.

    These are children of great promise. They could be educated in neighborhood schools and given

    the same opportunity to progress academically and graduate that is enjoyed by their peers

    without a disability. These children can be educated successfully in SPSs neighborhood schools

    with reasonable modification of SPSs programs and services and with the aid of appropriate

    school-based behavioral services.

    5. Defendants failure to reasonably modify SPSs programs and services, and

    instead placing these children with a mental health disability in a wholly segregated educational

    setting, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12132 et seq.

    6. The ADA mandates that Defendants (i) provide children with a mental health

    disability educational opportunities that are equal to and as effective as those provided other

    students; and (ii) serve students with a mental health disability in the most integrated setting

    appropriate to their needs, that is, the setting in which they have the greatest opportunity to be

    engaged with their peers without a disability. By warehousing students with a mental health

    disability in the Public Day School, Defendants are violating both of the ADAs legal mandates.

    7. The ADA imposes on Defendants the obligation to reasonably modify SPSs

    programs and services to avoid discrimination. Providing children with a mental health

    disability access to school-based behavior services -- to afford them equal educational

    Case 3:14-cv-30116 Document 1 Filed 06/27/14 Page 2 of 21

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    opportunity and to enable them to be educated in neighborhood schools -- is a reasonable

    modification required by the ADA.

    8. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

    (DESE) has cited SPS for many of the deficiencies alleged here. In an April 2014

    Coordinated Program Review Report of Findings (Program Review Report), the DESE

    found SPS in violation of federal and state law as a result of, among other things: removing

    students with disabilities from regular classrooms without appropriate justification; failing to

    provide needed behavior services to children with a mental health disability; and denying

    children in the Public Day School the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular and

    vocational programs.

    9. Plaintiff S.S., a fifteen year-old with a mental health disability who is currently

    segregated in the Public Day School, brings this suit on behalf of himself and other similarly

    situated students. Plaintiff Parent/Professional Advocacy League (PPAL) is a statewide,

    grassroots family organization that advocates for improved access to services for children with a

    mental health disability and their families. Plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief for

    ongoing violations of the ADA, including an order that Defendants provide Plaintiff S.S. and the

    Plaintiff class with school-based behavior services in neighborhood schools to afford them an

    equal educational opportunity and enable them to be educated in neighborhood schools with their

    peers without a disability.

    II. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

    10. This court has jurisdiction over this action under Title II of the ADA, 42 U.S.C.

    12131-12133, and 28 U.S.C. 1331. Declaratory relief is available pursuant to 28 U.S.C.

    Case 3:14-cv-30116 Document 1 Filed 06/27/14 Page 3 of 21

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    2201 and Rule 57 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Injunctive relief is authorized by 28

    U.S.C. 2202, and Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

    11. Venue is proper in the District of Massachusetts pursuant to 28 U.S.C.

    1391(b)(2), since all of the acts and omissions giving rise to these claims occurred in the

    Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Venue is proper in the Western Division since the individual

    Plaintiff and all of the Defendants reside or are located in that Division. Local R. 40.1(D)(1)(a).

    III. EXHAUSTION OF ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES

    12. Plaintiff S.S. filed a Request for Hearing with the Massachusetts Bureau of

    Special Education Appeals (BSEA) on behalf of himself and a class of similarly situated

    students on June 18, 2013, and an Amended Request on July 22, 2013, seeking injunctive and

    declaratory relief. In particular, S.S. contended that SPS did not reasonably modify its programs

    and services to ensure that he and members of the class are afforded equal educational

    opportunity, including the opportunity to receive an education that is equal to and as effective as

    that provided other students and to receive educational programs and services in the most

    integrated setting appropriate to their needs.

    13. S.S. contended that SPS segregates him and similarly situated students in the

    separate and inferior Public Day School in violation of the ADA.

    14. On October 15, 2013, upon the motion of SPS, a BSEA Hearing Officer

    dismissed the class claims on the ground that the BSEA had no jurisdiction to decide them.

    15. An administrative hearing before the BSEA was held in this matter on January

    22-24, 2014 to address S.S.s individual claims.

    16. On March 27, 2014, the BSEA Hearing Officer issued a ruling dismissing all of

    S.S.s ADA claims. The Hearing Officer further ruled that S.S.s placement and Individualized

    Case 3:14-cv-30116 Document 1 Filed 06/27/14 Page 4 of 21

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    Education Plan were reasonably calculated to provide him a free appropriate public education

    under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400,

    et seq., M.G.L. c. 30A and c. 71B, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section

    504), codified at 29 U.S.C. 794.

    17. Having exhausted administrative remedies on behalf of himself and a class of

    similarly situated students, S.S. now files this Class Action Complaint seeking relief under the

    ADA. S.S. does not appeal the BSEA Hearing Officers decision regarding his claims under the

    IDEA, M.G.L. c. 30A and c. 71B, or Section 504.

    IV. PARTIES

    A. Plaintiffs

    18. Plaintiff S.S. is an African American 15 year-old student with a mental health

    disability enrolled in SPS. He resides with his mother and younger siblings in Springfield,

    Massachusetts. His mother, S.Y., brings this action on his behalf.

    19. Plaintiff PPAL is a statewide, grassroots family organization that advocates for

    improved access to services for children with a mental health disability and their families.

    Founded in 1991, PPAL is the Massachusetts state affiliate of the Federation of Families for

    Childrens Mental Health, a national family-run organization that provides leadership at the

    national level. There are more than 7,000 Massachusetts families who are constituents in

    PPALs network, including Plaintiff S.S. and his mother. In the twelve months prior to the filing

    of this Complaint, more than 150 Springfield families have sought help from or joined PPALs

    network. Many of PPALs constituents from Springfield (i.e., families who have sought help

    from or joined PPALs network) have children with a mental health disability enrolled in SPS,

    including children who have been