10/26/2010

SPLC, Advocacy Groups File Federal Lawsuit in New Orleans Against Louisiana Department of Education

The Southern Poverty Law Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Community Justice section of the Loyola Law Clinic in New Orleans, and the Southern Disability Law Center filed a federal civil rights lawsuit today against the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) on behalf of all New Orleans students with special needs.

The lawsuit details LDE’s systemic failures to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to educational services and are protected from discrimination.

“The Louisiana Department of Education recently acknowledged the well-documented barriers facing students with disabilities in New Orleans. This acknowledgement is heartening and gives us hope that we can collaborate to immediately address the urgent crisis facing New Orleans students with disabilities,” said Eden Heilman, lead attorney on the case for the SPLC.

In late July, lawyers for the students filed a complaint with the LDE on behalf of students who have either been completely denied enrollment as a result of their disability or forced to attend schools ill-equipped to accommodate their disabilities in violation of federal law. The complaint was an effort to work collaboratively with the state to craft a solution that would ensure all students have equal access to educational services.

The collaborative process stalled while students with disabilities continued their struggle to enroll in school and access the services to which they are entitled. As a result, it was necessary to file today’s lawsuit.

”Equal access to quality education is a civil right of all children, including those with disabilities,” said Brenda Shum, senior counsel, Educational Opportunities Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “For too long, the Louisiana Department of Education has abdicated its legal and moral obligation to educate these students. This class-action lawsuit highlights the critical need for ongoing federal and state enforcement of special education and anti-discrimination laws.  It represents a step in the right direction by demanding the state respond to the wholesale failure of special education in New Orleans, which has denied educational opportunity to our most vulnerable children.”  

Lekisher Luckett, the mother of a plaintiff in this case, noted that these struggles take a toll on children. She said, “After being treated like a lost cause for years, Darren has come to believe that about himself. My 9-year old son is too young to give up on his education.”

“The children of New Orleans have been through so much over the past five years. Unfortunately, while many have rebounded as their schools and communities have been rebuilt, the most vulnerable have too often been left to languish,” said Davida Finger, Assistant Clinical Professor at Loyola University Law Clinic in New Orleans. “We hope the Louisiana Department of Education will demonstrate their commitment to these children by working with us to address and solve these issues.”