School Day Shortened For Hundreds With Disabilities, Suit Claims
The parents of children with autism and other developmental disabilities are suing the state of Oregon over claims that the children are being deprived of an education through shortened school days.
The plaintiffs, parents of four children, represent hundreds of students in Oregon who are removed from classrooms and schools because of their disability-related behaviors, according to Joel Greenberg, lead attorney for Disability Rights Oregon, one of four advocacy groups that filed the federal class action lawsuit Tuesday.
Greenberg said the problem is common across the U.S., particularly in rural or smaller school districts, and that this is believed to be the first lawsuit to focus on shortened class time.
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“Local school districts continue to violate the law by not providing a free and appropriate education and most importantly, the behavioral supports the students need,” Greenberg said. “The fix requires an understanding of their disabilities, their behavioral triggers and interventions adults should learn.”
Some children as young as 5 years old receive just one or two hours of instruction a day from public school districts in Oregon, either in a separate classroom at school or tutoring in their homes, Greenberg said. The typical school day lasts six hours.
The suit alleges that the state has known about these issues in its schools for years, but has failed to take steps to ensure that students are receiving the education they are legally entitled.
At least 50 percent of the children receiving shortened instruction time have autism and most are boys, Greenberg said. Their classroom behaviors have included an inability to sit in chairs for extended periods or refusing to do certain tasks. Others disrupt classes by yelling or making noises. Some of the older children have displayed physical aggression in the classroom.
“The answer is not to keep a child out of school but to come up with the proper support and techniques they need,” Greenberg said.
The lawsuit describes the cases of several children with autism:
• E.O., 10, has not been allowed to attend a full day of school since the middle of the last academic year. He “currently has no friends at school and is now reluctant to attend because he believes that no one likes him.” E.O. is described as a sweet, compassionate boy who sometimes yells or kicks when he feels frustrated.
• B.M., 14, is known as a happy and athletic teenager who is nonverbal and craves movement through flapping his hands and rocking his body. His frustration with communication has led to biting himself and kicking. His school days have been progressively shortened and he is currently not permitted on school grounds.
• J.V., 7, has recently been allowed to attend a full school day for the first time. He is nonverbal and his behaviors worsened as he was kept out of the classroom.
Parents of the excluded children said they feel frustrated and angry by the situation that has led to gradually worsening behavior, Greenberg said. They report that their children associate school with shame and humiliation. Some of the parents’ marriages have failed, while others have had to quit jobs to take care of their children during the day.
Some of the children are nearly illiterate or unable to complete simple math problems by the seventh or eighth grade. Others are academically talented but unable to make friends or maintain friendships, Greenberg said.
“They need to practice socialization with other children to learn those skills,” he said.
The shortened educational time violates the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prevent exclusion and discrimination of students in schools, according to the lawsuit.
“When they don’t get to go to school, they don’t learn,” Greenberg said. “The idea that those children can grow into functioning adults becomes a lower possibility as they are isolated at home.”
The complaint names Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, the state’s Department of Education and its director.
Marc Siegel, communications director for the Oregon Department of Education, said he could not comment on pending litigation, but indicated that the agency “is committed to equity and excellence for every learner.”