Settlement agreements have been filed in two cases brought last October by the ACLU of RI and RI Legal Services to protect the rights of special education students who were harmed by Providence’s three-week long school bus strike. Although some remedies have already been implemented by the Providence school district in response to the legal actions, the settlement agreements, filed with the R.I. Department of Education, establish additional enforceable school district educational and financial obligations to compensate the students and their families.
One agreement settles a “class administrative complaint” filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Ellen Saideman and R.I. Legal Services attorney Veronika Kot on behalf of four families representing the 725 students with disabilities whose education plans for transportation were disrupted during the strike. Under the agreement:
• All children who lost special education time will receive additional special education time to make up for lost services. Providence has scheduled two weeks of summer programming, from August 5 to August 16, for those students who need to make up school this summer.
• All children who did not receive related services, including but not limited to services such as speech/language, occupational therapy, and physical therapy, will receive compensatory services at the rate of one hour for each hour of services not provided.
• The Providence School District will reach out by phone to all affected families to discuss and plan for these compensatory services and to hold IEP meetings where necessary to document when and how these services will be provided.
• Parents who were able to transport their own children during the strike will be compensated for their expenses in doing so. So far 258 families have requested reimbursement. All families affected have been notified of their right to be get reimbursement.
The second settled case resolves a “due process petition,” filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Christine Marinello, on behalf of twelve-year old Jeremy Young, who has complex medical, mobility and academic needs and requires the use of a wheelchair at all times. His mother does not own a car and was unable to pay up front for the specialized transportation needed to take him to school. Under that settlement agreement, the school district is providing Jeremy additional days of service and reimbursing the family for transportation-related costs incurred as a result of the strike. In both of the cases, the school district also agreed to pay attorneys’ fees.
Both complaints challenged the school district’s failure to comply with the students’ Individual Education Plans, which include transportation to and from school, as a violation of federal and state laws. The strike ended after eleven days, but hundreds of children missed school during that time.
Constance Young, Jeremy’s mother, said today: “This has been a long process and I am happy that it seems to finally be over. All parties seem to agree this mess was not handled right. In the future if this is to ever happen again, we have some sort of history to look back on and never repeat.”
RILS attorney Veronika Kot remarked: “Intensive specialized supports are critical for students with special needs to make adequate educational progress. These agreements ensure that vulnerable students are made whole and do not fall behind as a result of lost educational services and therapies.”
ACLU of RI volunteer attorney Ellen Saideman added: “It was the school district’s responsibility to provide for alternative transportation during the bus strike, and more than 500 children missed some or all of the education that they desperately needed during the strike. We are very pleased the children and families will receive full relief because of this agreement.”
The ACLU is still helping get reimbursement to parents who lived outside Providence but had their busing disrupted by the strike. Parents experiencing problems in getting reimbursed can contact the ACLU.