Special ed students in isolation at juvenile facilities must receive education, federal government says

Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall is the subject of a lawsuit alleging that officials deny education services to special education students in solitary confinement. Credit: www.contracosta.ca.gov

Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall is the subject of a lawsuit alleging that education services were denied to special education students in solitary confinement. Credit: www.contracosta.ca.gov

Special education students who are locked in isolation in juvenile facilities must receive educational services and behavioral interventions, according to a sweeping assertion of the rights of special education students in detention issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education.

The statement from the two federal agencies comes in response to a federal lawsuit against the Contra Costa County Office of Education and Contra Costa County alleging that some special education students were confined to their cells at the county Juvenile Hall for more than 22 hours a day for more than 100 days. The lawsuit charges that the students received few or no educational or behavioral services during that time. The suit was filed in August by nonprofit legal center Disability Rights Advocates, public interest law firm Public Counsel and Paul Hastings LLP on behalf of three special education students in Juvenile Hall.

In a motion to dismiss the suit, the county said the special education students were a threat to safety and therefore could not receive certain education and rehabilitation services.

“The truth is that there is no accommodation, much less a ‘reasonable one,’ that would result in plaintiffs not engaging in misconduct,” attorneys for Contra Costa County said in the motion to dismiss.

The Departments of Justice and Education disagreed, citing protections afforded to youth with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A special education student’s allegedly dangerous behavior or disciplinary infraction does not excuse public agencies from their obligation to provide educational and behavioral services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal agencies said in a statement of interest in the case filed Feb. 13.

“The fact that youth have been charged with or convicted of a crime does not diminish their substantive rights, procedural safeguards, and remedies provided under the IDEA …” the federal agencies’ filing said. “Even when there are special circumstances based on the seriousness of a youth’s behavior, the youth is entitled to continue receiving education services and appropriate interventions and modifications to address the youth’s behavior.”

The Departments of Justice and Education also noted their clout in the courts. Because those federal agencies are responsible for enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, their interpretations of special education law have held considerable sway in federal courts, they said. The federal agencies asked the court to deny the county’s motion to dismiss and asked to be allowed to participate in oral arguments, if they occur. A hearing on the motion to dismiss will be held March 20.

The first plaintiff is identified as G.F., a 15-year-old girl diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder and intermittent explosive disorder. Because of fighting with other youth at Juvenile Hall, she was confined to her cell for more than 100 days, the lawsuit said; her attorneys called the disciplinary action solitary confinement, but the federal agencies used the term restrictive security program. Plaintiff Q.G., a 17-year-old diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, alleged he has spent 200 days since 2010 confined to his cell.

The third plaintiff, W.B., is a 17-year-old diagnosed with psychosis and schizophrenia. His lawyers said he spent more than three months in isolation before having a psychotic break and being hospitalized.

The two federal agencies also accused the Contra Costa County Office of Education and the Contra Costa County of dodging responsibility for educating special education students and blaming each other for short-comings in services.

In the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the county said that the Probation Department has no administrative control over Mt. McKinley School, which is the Juvenile Hall school run by the County Office of Education, and is not responsible for providing special education services. In turn, the County Office of Education said that it is not responsible for the denial of special education services because the Probation Department has sole authority over disciplinary practices.

“The lead agency responsible for the safety and security of the students in Juvenile Hall is the Department of Probation,” the County Office of Education said in a statement on Tuesday. Federal allegations of “finger pointing” between county probation and education offices were a distraction from “the important discussions around strengthening our partnership, so that the County Office of Education can successfully meet the educational needs of all youth in Juvenile Hall,” the statement said.

Betsy Burkhart, director of communications for Contra Costa County, said she was unable to comment on the federal statement because of the ongoing litigation.

Mary-Lee Smith, managing attorney at the Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates, said the case had national implications.

“The Department of Education and the Department of Justice are clearly saying that youth with disabilities in juvenile detention facilities are equally protected by the law,” Smith said. “The protections don’t go away just because they’re incarcerated.”

Jane Meredith Adams covers student health. Contact her or follow her @JaneAdams. Sign up here for EdHealth, EdSource Today’s free newsletter on student health.

Filed under: Discipline, Hot Topics, Special Education, Student Wellbeing

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11 Responses to “Special ed students in isolation at juvenile facilities must receive education, federal government says”

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  1. Regis on Feb 21, 2014 at 8:23 am02/21/2014 8:23 am

    • 000

    It has become far too easy, to have children that you don’t have to be responsible for, have any control over or even endeavor to raise them to be productive citizens of this country.

    I don’t advocate sterilization and the scenario where the State takes the children, is already here, through our huge and very expensive L.A. County. The 2013 budget for Foster Care is over half a billion dollars! And that’s just for L.A. County!

    I find your comment intriguing, Manuel:

    “Or, because there are many people like you out there, will these children be euthanized because we are not responsible for their upkeep?”

    There you go. “…because we are not responsible for their upkeep?”

    That’s right, you and many others, don’t feel there has to be ANY responsibility for a child’s upkeep. This is what is causing the degradation of our Societal Boundaries, is that now you can have a ‘baby’ for free and get a whole host of Entitlements, just for doing that basic function, that any dog, cat or animal can do.

    They’re so valuable, that you can even drop them off at the Fire Department or Hospital, no questions asked and now the Taxpayer has to pick up the tab.

    I find it highly repugnant myself, that I and many other hard working people, have to PAY for your BAD CHOICES. Again, who’s fault is it, that there are a bunch of unwanted babies and children out there? Is it my fault? It is not.

    I advocate PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. What do you advocate? Do you think it is right to bring a child into this world, that you as a parent, aren’t going to feed, tutor and raise in a meaningful and diligent manner?

  2. el on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm02/20/2014 1:02 pm

    • 000

    I don’t understand at a practical level why a child in solitary confinement cannot also be given access to an educational program while so confined.


    • Regis on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:30 pm02/20/2014 1:30 pm

      • 000

      It’s easy. First, you have to give them a choice. If they don’t want to go to a classroom and learn, while behaving in a respectful, mindful manner, then I’m all for it. If they don’t, too bad, because it’s like the old saying about leading a horse to water (but you can’t make them drink).

      • el on Feb 20, 2014 at 3:17 pm02/20/2014 3:17 pm

        • 000

        My point is, it is not necessary to be in a classroom with other students to have access to an educational program.

        Whether the child elects to partake of it or cooperate is of course another matter.

        • Regis on Feb 21, 2014 at 9:59 am02/21/2014 9:59 am

          • 000

          I agree and I actually gave thought to this. In fact, it may be conducive to the young criminals in solitary confinement, to actually be given materials and learning tools, so that they may begin to educate themselves, rather than being bored to tears all day long. Something, is better than nothing.

          If they cannot read, then I would begin by giving the same educational toys, that would teach them the alphabet, such as the ones, you might give toddlers, where they hit the button and the recording inside, recites the letter. And then you can move them up from there. First and foremost, there has to be that desire to learn and improve one’s self through knowledge. That is the one and only path.

          Here is a saying, that I have come up with:

          “Taking Responsibility for your Actions, will result in Responsibility for your Destiny”.

  3. Regis on Feb 20, 2014 at 10:30 am02/20/2014 10:30 am

    • 000

    “On the most practical level, is more efficient and economical to appropriately educate the Special Needs Students while they are young then to try to deal with the economic, medical, and psychological costs of what will happen to them when they become adults.”

    Wow, it’s even more EFFICIENT AND ECONOMICAL to NOT even have these ‘Special Needs Students’ as babies to begin with. If they aren’t born then they won’t be a liability to the system. That makes even more sense!

    I say, the weakest and most vulnerable should quit having children, they are not capable of raising. Quit paying them to have children on the taxpayer’s dime. If there were less of these people, getting pregnant, maybe there would be less of them pulling money out of the taxpayer’s pocket, via a whole host of Government programs.

    Yes, it sounds harsh, but again, it comes down to PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY! Why should the taxpayer, be saddled with the extravagant and ever-growing costs of a huge number of people who don’t have the skills or the wherewithal to raise children?

    It’s not MY fault that these people are having ‘vulnerable’ children, is it? Am I to blame for the unmarried ghetto mother getting pregnant by an unknown father (or more likely, fathers)? Am I to blame for their behavior? Am I responsible for their upkeep, education, lunches, snacks, after school care and incarcaration? I think not.

    If I were going to start a Government Program it would be called “Don’t get pregnant, because we’re not going to pay for it”.


    • Manuel on Feb 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm02/20/2014 6:00 pm

      • 000

      So, Regis, is your solution to sterilize this people?

      Alternatively, will a registry be created to control their fertility?

      If they do give birth, will their children be taken away by the state because they can’t afford them?

      Or, because there are many people like you out there, will these children be euthanized because we are not responsible for their upkeep?

      You are certainly entitled to your views, it is a free country, after all.

      But your entire tirade is repugnant.

      Thank you for reminding me that while science and technology has improved our standard of living there are many out there who think our society should be run like the Sparta of more than 2,500 years ago.

  4. EC on Feb 20, 2014 at 9:53 am02/20/2014 9:53 am

    • 000

    It may be true that a few are reprobates without disabilities, fully capable, but unwilling to change despite any method of attempt at remediation.

    However, what it more often the truth is that these are students with disabilities who were sent down the wrong path because of a lack of appropriate resources and guidance.

    Until a student is given a unbiased full educational psychological evaluation, one cannot state whether a the student has disabilities or not.

    Sometimes these “criminals” are products of their bad environments and/or psychological or learning disabilities that went untreated. There is a saying “from School to the Prison Pipeline”.

    For example, the School Districts attempt to 1) Deny, 2) Limit, and 3) Discriminate and Intimidate the Students with Disabilities and their Parents. The low to which the Districts will go will appall you (Districts
    bringing school lawyers to IEP meetings with Parents, threatening Parents by filing lawsuits against them, calling Social Services and claiming false allegations of child abuse, blaming & defaming the Parents and the Students, etc.). For Special Needs Students & their Parents, going to school is like going to a battle field.

    Why is money that should be spent on appropriately educating students (including Special Needs students) being wasted on District attorneys and District Administrators who act like Gatekeepers preventing appropriate services to the Special Needs students? ALL THIS ABUSE MUST STOP!

    How can the U.S. allow its governmental branches (the School Districts) act in such a manner? Is America a Free and Democratic Super Power or is it a more of a Totalitarian Government?

    On the most practical level, is more efficient and economical to appropriately educate the Special Needs Students while they are young then to try to deal with the economic, medical, and psychological costs of what will happen to them when they become adults.

    But more importantly, on an ethical and moral level, a Society is judged based on how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable. Please hear the pleas of the Special Needs Students.

  5. Regis on Feb 20, 2014 at 8:35 am02/20/2014 8:35 am

    • 000

    Old term: “Criminals”. New term: “Individuals with Disabilities”…

    BTW, my ex-wife, a former probation officert, taught at Challenger Youth Detention Center and from her stories, I can tell you, that many of you, would ever, ever want to try to teach a ‘class’ of highly violent, illiterate, uncaring and disrespectful youth, who have absolutely zero interest in learning anything. The ‘panic button’ was there for a reason…


    • Mike on Feb 24, 2014 at 3:21 pm02/24/2014 3:21 pm

      • 000

      While you were unable to state your argument in a grammatically correct fashion, I do understand your sentiment. You’re correct; if you do not want to be of service to our nation’s most at-risk, you shouldn’t. If you do, then you must have a positive attitude and outlook. By the way, I spent two years working with that “‘class of…youth” you so disparagingly describe, and count that as one of the most valuable experiences of my life. Our juvenile justice system is broken. It is pathetic, partly as a result of the attitude you expressed here!

  6. Regis on Feb 20, 2014 at 8:13 am02/20/2014 8:13 am

    • 000

    This is not the taxpayer’s fault. The blame lies directly, with a long line of Government intervention into private affairs for no good cause. Personal responsibility has been replaced with indentured servitude on a wide range of means-tested Government programs that supposedly provide a ‘cure’, but instead, just worsen the problem.

    Add the army of lawyers, wrangling for legal fees to support themselves and you have a big, ugly mess. There will always be an underclass, like it or not, throughout history. Always has been this way and no amount of money, thrown at it, will ever cure it. In fact, throwing money at it, in a highly irresponsible way, has only grown the underclass (to the delight of the Cloward-Piven crowd).

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