California Watch is reporting that the Riverside Unified School District has been named in two separate lawsuits by parents of children enrolled in individualized special education programs in district elementary schools. The reporter, Joanna Lin, writes:
[Parents]...claim... that Riverside Unified pressured and duped them into signing agreements that violate state and federal special education laws.
"They're sort of blindsided," said Heather McGunigle, the Inland Empire director at the Disability Rights Legal Center and an attorney for the families. "Even though they got something out of the contract, what they lost was something significantly greater, which was the right to participate, which they were not aware was going to happen."
The lawsuits...are pending in U.S. District Court in Riverside....It is not illegal or even unusual for school districts and families to enter into settlements regarding special education placement and services. But the practice needs parameters to protect parents' procedural safeguards, McGunigle said....[RUSD] serves about 4,500 special education students.
The practice is one the district's director of special education, Tim Walker, has been criticized for in the past. In 2008, under a settlement with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, Walker resigned as the district's deputy superintendent after coming under fire for using confidential settlements in special education disputes...
In the case of one of the plaintiff families, the McGhees:
[Their son]...who has Asperger's syndrome, had been in a special day class for emotionally disturbed children since second grade – a setting [the mother] said had devolved into "a nightmare."
Fearing for her son's safety, [she] asked the district to hold an emergency meeting to discuss his individualized education program, a federally mandated document that guides the goals and services for each public school student who receives special education.
A program meeting requires the participation of a specific group of people, including special and general education teachers. Instead, two district officials presented [the McGhees] with what the parents said was a "take it or leave it" settlement: Their son would be placed at the school they wanted, but they would waive several rights under state and federal law, including the right to request changes to his individualized program for the next 16 months and the right to file claims against the district during that time.