Families of public school students with disabilities won a legal battle Tuesday when a federal court judge dismissed the city’s attempt to throw their suit out on procedural grounds.
The lawsuit filed in October 2017 by three city families with the advocacy group Advocates for Children charged the city Department of Education with failing to provide legally mandated services for disabled students such as nursing services in school and on the school bus.
City lawyers sought to have the suit tossed by arguing that the issues in the suit had already been addressed and that the state education department was the responsible party, and not the city.
But Southern District judge William Pauley disagreed in a strongly-worded statement in which he ripped the public schools’ “Kafkaesque” bureaucracy for preventing families from getting needed services for disabled kids.
“While DOE is responsible for providing every child with a ‘free and appropriate public education,’ its policies and procedures have hobbled the efforts of the disabled students,” Pauley wrote in the order.
The families in the suit seek changes to Education Department policies regarding students with disabilities and an unspecified monetary payment.
Advocates for Children director Kim Sweet praised Pauley’s decision.
“We are happy that the court’s decision recognized the systemic nature of our claims,” Sweet said. “Hopefully, this case will motivate the DOE to fix a broken system.”
Education spokesman Doug Cohen said the city is working to address the issues outlined in the suit.
“All students deserve a high-quality education,” Cohen said “We are continuing to work diligently to address concerns and meet the needs of students and families.”
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