5 Things You Should Know About Special School Students Lawsuit Against Ann Arbor Schools

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ANN ARBOR, MI – A lawsuit filed by families of four students at Ann Arbor Public School alleges the district failed to provide adequate special education services during the more than 15 months of distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s a rundown of what’s in the lawsuit, and why parents believe their children did not receive adequate education from the district, Washtenaw Intermediate School District, and Michigan Department of Education.

Connected: Lawsuit alleges Ann Arbor schools did not provide adequate special education services during the pandemic

Who brought the lawsuit and who is named in the lawsuit?

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four AAPS students with special needs ages 7, 9, 10 and 12.

The lawsuit was filed against AAPS, MDE and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and also names AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift, State Superintendent Michael Rice, former WISD Superintendent Scott Menzel, current WISD Interim Superintendent Naomi Norman and AAPS Executive Director of Student Intervention & Support Services Intervention Marianne Fidishin.

What wrongdoing parents accuse?

The lawsuit alleges that AAPS modified students’ IEPs without “meaningful participation” from parents or prior written notice and failed to ensure that students have access to free and decent public education on a par with their non-disabled peers.

The complaint asked a federal judge to certify the lawsuit as a class action lawsuit representing all Michigan students receiving special education benefits under the Disabled Education Act.

The lawsuit also accuses AAPS, MDE, and WISD officials of extortion by accepting federal funds but not using those funds to provide adequate special education services to students.

The lawsuit alleges that AAPS received IDEA Part B funds from WISD and used them for unlawful purposes, including the purchase of personal protective equipment for all employees and students. Part B contains provisions on formula grants that help states provide free, adequate public education to children with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21 in the least restrictive environment possible.

What concerns did parents raise in IEPs with AAPS?

IEP documents, which are included as exhibits in the lawsuit, indicate that parents raised concerns about how their children were able to learn through virtual teaching.

“(The student) is unable to moderate his own distractions,” an IEP from an AAPS student explains the parents’ concerns. “This type of teaching makes it especially difficult to monitor whether he is on the job or not. When working at home, everything seems optional (to the student). (The student) does it better with consistent individual help. “

“He gets defensive and / or angry when parents try to help him with work,” the same IEP later says.

Another student’s IEP on Aug. 27, 2020 notes that the child’s parents wanted her IEP team to understand that she was not interested in virtual learning. The IEP further states that the student had suffered emotional “disregulation” and had psychological problems, including self-harm, which were not represented in the IEP because they had not presented themselves in the school environment in the past.

“With the school now virtual, parents want to make sure it is included in their IEP now,” the IEP says. “She is computer resistant, will run and hide, participate, but then turn off the screen and walk away when annoyed or bored. In the spring there were more incidents of violence, and not just because of the school. “

Have parents expressed concern or frustration about the special education services offered by AAPS during the COVID-19 pandemic?

While parents have raised a wide range of concerns about the impact of no longer offering face-to-face tuition during the pandemic, several parents have made public comments at Ann Arbor School Committee meetings claiming that their children have suffered an adverse impact because of the they do not have access to personal tuition and special needs education.

AAPS remained in distance learning from March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, until March 25, 2021, when it began offering a hybrid learning format for some students.

Two of the parents named in the lawsuit voiced their concerns about the district in public at board meetings throughout the school year, noting that their students’ needs have not been met since March 2020.

One parent said when she detailed her concerns in a letter to the district, she received a “pre-written” response from Swift, while Fidishin offered to discuss the parent’s concerns but did not respond after expressing her willingness to speak .

“There was no answer that confirmed or not the time I offered. No aftercare at all, “said the parent on October 28, 2020.” My child has received almost no speech therapy this year after the therapist had several problems with Zoom and is now disappearing without notice and not being replaced. “

What are the parents looking for in this lawsuit?

The parents request that the court issue a declaratory judgment that switching AAPS from face-to-face to virtual instruction violates IDEA’s procedural guarantees and discriminates against them.

The lawsuit also calls for the court to issue a declaratory judgment that MDE failed to monitor and provide adequate oversight and resources to AAPS and other similar-located counties during the pandemic.

Parents request that the AAPS use a dedicated monitor to monitor the completion of independent educational assessments to identify regression and loss of competence due to changes in their IEPs and to re-convene IEP team meetings within 30 days of the completion of the IEEs and provide expert recommendations to the court. in relation to any educational decline suffered by students, while ensuring that expert recommendations are written into the IEP documents of class members.

The lawsuit also orders MDE, WISD and AAPS to honor procedural guarantees guaranteed by IDEA for the 2021-22 school year unless the U.S. Department of Education issues IDEA waivers.

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