New Orleans Special Education
Students with disabilities were denied access to New Orleans public schools and often pushed into schools that failed to provide them with a free and appropriate education as required by federal mandate.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and a coalition of advocacy groups first filed an administrative complaint against the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) to bring schools into compliance with federal law and end practices that harm students with disabilities.
When that effort to craft a solution with the state stalled, the SPLC and its partners filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of 10 families.
The lawsuit, P.B. v. Brumley (originally P.B. v. Pastorek), describes how the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) denied students with disabilities admission to schools because of their disabilities – a violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. What’s more, students were punished in school for behavior stem¬ming from their disabilities, according to the lawsuit. It also outlines how the school board failed to establish policies and practices to identify and evaluate students with disabilities for services in a timely fashion.
The LDOE and OPSB agreed to settle, entering into a consent judgment on March 25, 2015. The parties agreed to hire independent monitors to observe schools in the categories of discipline, enrollment, identifying students with disabilities and providing special education services. Every 180 days, the monitors issue reports detailing whether the schools are complying with the consent judgment. If noncompliance is found, the monitors determine whether it is a systemic issue or an isolated case. The monitors continue observing schools until compliance is found.
In October 2020, the OPSB and the LDOE notified the court that they felt it was time for the monitoring to end. The plaintiffs argued that termination would be premature, and that the monitoring had been successful – in fact, more proactive measures are needed before the consent judgment is terminated. The judge ordered the SPLC to develop a proposal that could be adopted if monitoring under consent judgment ends.
The plaintiffs’ comprehensive proposal, submitted to the court in July 2021, ensures continued robust monitoring of special education in New Orleans. The proposal includes the following:
• Create an Office of Ombudsman in the New Orleans Public School system to help families and schools to resolve conflicts and issue reports on its activities each year
• Increase transparency in special education, including in school choice, complaint procedures, and how students with disabilities are doing in New Orleans schools
• Incorporate the consent judgment monitoring into New Orleans’ monitoring and compliance frameworks, and
• Continue to hold the LDOE and OPSB accountable for the special education of students in Orleans Parish.