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Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss SPLC Suit Seeking Equal Education for Special Needs Students in New Orleans

A federal judge today denied the Louisiana Department of Education's motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the SPLC on behalf of thousands of New Orleans students with special needs.

A federal judge today denied the Louisiana Department of Education's motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of thousands of New Orleans students with special needs.

These students are denied access to New Orleans public schools and often pushed into schools unable to provide them with the educational services they are due under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"Today was a great day for the thousands of New Orleans students and families who continue to struggle for access to even the most basic public education services," said Eden Heilman, lead SPLC attorney in the case. "The court has recognized that these students allege serious violations of federal law and will allow them to have their day in court. We hope the state of Louisiana will see the importance of removing the barriers to public education that currently plague New Orleans. We welcome an opportunity to work with the state to craft a plan to ensure compliance with federal law."

Also, lawyers for the plaintiffs asked the court to prevent the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) from continuing its harmful practices while the lawsuit proceeds. The LDE has fallen far short of identifying students with disabilities, accommodating them so that they receive the same quality of education as non-disabled students, and ensuring disciplinary protections for disabled students. Among other requests, the court was asked to require the LDE to implement broader outreach efforts to identify students with disabilities and to educate the students and their parents about their rights under the law.

The decision to let the case go forward "represents a critical victory for these families, who have been tireless advocates for their children," said Brenda Shum, senior counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who also argued the motion. "These families give a face and voice to the unintended but devastating consequences of the state's abdication of their responsibility to ensure that students with disabilities have access to equal and meaningful educational opportunities in New Orleans."

The SPLC's co-counsels in the case are the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, the Community Justice section of the Loyola Law Clinic in New Orleans and the Southern Disability Law Center.