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Judge OKs Special Ed. Settlement Marking Changes for New Orleans' Charter Schools

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A federal judge in New Orleans approved a settlement Monday in a lawsuit involving special education and the city's public schools (nearly all of which are charters), according to The Times Picayune.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the original complaint in 2010. It claimed that public schools in New Orleans discriminated against the student plaintiffs because of their disabilities and that massive post-Katrina school choice reform efforts—specifically the charter school boom—have largely left those students behind.

Both the state-run Recovery School District (which took over most schools in the city after the storm) and the original Orleans Parish School Board were named as defendants. The two sides landed on a settlement in December. More details on the deal from Times-Picayune reporter Danielle Dreilinger:

"The settlement puts in place an independent monitor to make sure New Orleans schools are following the law. Among the terms: schools will be randomly audited, the state will create a plan to ensure all children with disabilities are identified and charters must lay out special education services in their renewal applications.

[Judge Jay] Zainey called the plan 'very fair, very well-thought-out,' and praised both sides for working in good faith to help children, saying the work 'makes me proud to be a lawyer.' "

However, there was one hiccup last week when Zainey said that objections to the settlement filed under seal needed to be addressed. He told lawyers to reach out to parents and school officials to try to deal with the issues. During Monday's hearing, Zainey further instructed lawyers to update the settlement agreement to make sure the parents' concerns were monitored and upped the number of progress reports required under the deal.

New Orleans education officials have taken steps over the last few years to improve the accessibility of schooling and services for students with special needs. For example, they created a single citywide application and enrollment system for almost all charter schools. Called OneApp, the program uses an algorithm to match students to schools based in part on a list of top picks submitted by parents. Proponents of such systems say they make it harder for schools to "cream" the best students or turn away those with special needs.

In related news, the Recovery School District released numbers Monday showing that student expulsions are down among the charter schools that the RSD oversees. Specifically, there was a 39 percent drop in expulsions during the first half of the 2014-15 school year over the same time last year.

District officials chalk that up to improved resources and coordinated efforts between the RSD and charter schools, including a standardized citywide expulsion policy and focusing on finding alternatives expullsions. 

Related:

Special Education Charter Schools Vulnerable to Funding Shortfall

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