DRTx Wins Judgement Against Celina ISD For Refusal to Transport Student with Disabilities

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 14, 2012

CONTACT:
Michael F. Heagerty, attorney
mheagerty@DRTx.org, 512-454-4816
or
Meredith Shytles, attorney
mshytles@DRTx.org, 512-454-4816

AUSTIN—Disability Rights Texas recently won a due process hearing against Celina Independent School District (ISD) stemming from the district’s denial of transportation to and from a juvenile justice alternative education placement (JJAEP) for one of its students with disabilities.

“Celina ISD misinterpreted the law,” said Michael Heagerty, attorney and mental health policy fellow at Disability Rights Texas (DRTx), the legal protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities in Texas. “The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) clearly requires school districts to provide transportation services to their students with disabilities as a component of a free and appropriate public education,” Heagerty continued.

In November 2011, Celina ISD expelled to the Collin County JJAEP one of its students receiving special education services. During an Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) committee meeting held shortly after the expulsion, Celina ISD officials decided that the district would not provide transportation to the student.

The student, however, lived more than 20 miles from the JJAEP. The student’s father objected to the district’s decision during the ARD meeting, but Celina ISD officials told him that it had an established policy not to transport students to the JJAEP.

“The district’s refusal to transport this student placed the responsibility to do so firmly on the shoulders of the parent, a single father supporting a family of eight,” Heagerty explained. The student’s father had to travel more than 80 miles every school day just to ensure that his son received an education — which he is entitled to under IDEA.

“When a school district requires a student with disabilities to attend an alternative placement, the district is still obligated to ensure that student makes progress toward his or her educational goals,” noted Meredith Shytles, staff attorney and Skadden fellow at DRTx. “When the district does not provide transportation and the student is otherwise unable to access the school, the district fails to fulfill its obligation. “Celina ISD’s policy amounted to a significant financial hardship for this family,” added Shytles. “Just because a student is expelled to a JJAEP does not give the school district license to shirk its responsibility under the law. If a student with a disability requires transportation to access the school setting where his educational needs will be met, the school must provide that transportation.”

A special education hearing officer ultimately ruled in the student’s favor, requiring Celina ISD to transport the student to and from the JJAEP for the duration of his placement there, as well as to reimburse the student’s father for travel expenses he had accrued up to the date of the hearing officer’s decision.

“Because of this decision, school districts that send students with disabilities to alternative placements can no longer pass the burden of providing transportation onto a student’s family,” Shytles said. “Many of the students attending JJAEPs receive special education services, and an overwhelmingly large number of them come from families classified as ‘economically disadvantaged,’” explained Heagerty. “This decision paves the way for future JJAEP students to more easily receive the transportation they are entitled to under federal law.”

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Disability Rights Texas is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas. Our mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society.