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Milwaukee Challenges Compensatory Education Ruling


I can't say that this move surprises me: Milwaukee has challenged a recent court ruling that says the district has to find and provide compensatory education to special education students who were in the district from 2000 to 2005.

The order from U.S. Magistrate Judge Aaron Goodstein required MPS to launch a wide search for former and current students - including regular education students - it failed to serve under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act from 2000 to 2005. The judge ordered that those students should be compensated but left the details on how to do that up to the plaintiff and defendants.

MPS officials said the costs of carrying out such a search with so many students would burden the district and taxpayers. The appeal also challenges several previous court rulings in the case, including an order that the district take remedial action on a class-wide basis, and a ruling that obligated the district to evaluate kids for special needs who have been retained a grade or received multiple suspensions.

I blogged about this a few days ago, and I wondered then about cost issues, which apparently the district's attorneys have also brought up as an issue. But a lawyer for a disability advocacy organization that brought the lawsuit against the district notes in the article, "what they've chosen to do throughout this case, and what they're doing now, is making a decision to pay attorneys rather than compensate kids whose rights have been violated."


I have been interested in this case because my general observation has been that once the parade has passed, it is very difficult to fix the damage that has been done. This is one huge weakness of reliance on due process for much of the enforcment of IDEA. It also acknowledges that there are patterns of non-compliance that are damaging to a general population and seeks a class remedy--rather than expecting any solution to go through the individualized process.

Children grow and develop. When their educational needs are neglected, their physical, emotional and other areas of growth continue anyway. As the parent of a now 18 year old, who is legally an adult, I am living with the result of years of educational neglect. This does not change my son's legal status, or his desire to be independent of the control or influence of parent/family. However, his saleable skills are very limited, his school experience has been one of overwhelming failure. At this point in his life, not only is there no legally defined parental role, much of the support that has been available has either evaporated, or relies on his ability to both recognize a need and ask for help.

Yes, the cost of locating the students who were inadequately served will be a tax-payer burden, and a greater one than the cost of having provided adequate services from the git-go. But, make no mistake, the tax-payers are bearing a burden. Sad to say, those (former) children are disproportionately represented in homeless shelters, receiving crisis services for mental and physical health, recipients of food stamps and other forms of public support, and yes, in jails.

I have so little sympathy for the adults in this situation who want to prolong the agony and avoid doing right. Yes--it's difficult, maybe even impossible to fix the wrong that has been done. And some of us are living with it every day of the week.

The Milwaukee Public Schools have put themselves in a monetary situation that will affect all the students enrolled in their system. This case began in September 2001 and in the newest decision, Goldstein stated that helping the past students has greater weight than MPS’ concerns over proceeding with the search while the main appeal is pending.

MPS is planning to make more than $8.8 million in cuts for the fiscal year 2010. Unfortunately, due to the delay they took in providing FAPE, it will affect them even more harshly during this economic hardship era.

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