Credit: Courtesy Contra Costa County
John A. Davis Juvenile Hall in Martinez

Contra Costa County’s probation department will ban the practice of locking students with disabilities in their cells for extended periods of time as punishment for their behavior in class, while the Contra Costa County Office of Education will retain an outside expert to ensure appropriate educational services for disabled students in detention, according to legal settlements announced Tuesday.

The two settlements were announced by the public interest law firms Disability Rights Advocates and Public Counsel, which filed a class action lawsuit in 2013 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco with three disabled students at Juvenile Hall as named plaintiffs. The suit alleged that some special education students repeatedly were confined to their cells as punishment for more than 22 hours a day.

“This is a big step forward,” said Mary-Lee Smith, managing attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “It focuses much more on what juvenile halls are designed to do, which is to rehabilitate.”

Under the settlement, which must be approved by a judge, neither the county nor the Office of Education admitted any wrongdoing. On Tuesday, the Office of Education disagreed that locking students in their cells constituted solitary confinement, as the lawyers have maintained.

“We have disputed this case start to finish,” said Terry Koehne, chief communications officer for the Contra Costa County Office of Education. “Probation will enter a classroom and escort a student out, if the student is causing disruption,” he said. “It’s much like when you send a student out of any classroom.”

The settlement would allow the county to place students in cell confinement for no longer than four hours. After four hours, staff would release the student from the cell, institute an individualized plan of action for the student or consult a mental health professional.

The settlement would bring positive behavior strategies — long established as central to special education — into a court school. Probation officers, educators and county mental health staff would be required meet as a group at least once a month to coordinate how they are working with struggling students. Experts in behavioral incentives would review practices at the Juvenile Hall and at the Mt. McKinley School, which is located at Juvenile Hall.

“This is a big step forward,” said Mary-Lee Smith, managing attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “It focuses much more on what juvenile halls are designed to do, which is to rehabilitate.”

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  1. Terry Koehne 3 years ago3 years ago

    I feel the need to comment, as several things are missing in this story: This particular case did not involve students being escorted out of the classroom. Room confinement was not instituted as a result of anything that occurred within the classroom setting. The exorbitant amount of legal fees charged by the plaintiff's attorneys is downright shameful... - $1.165 million in attorney fees for the plaintiff – compared to $175,000 for CCCOE’s counsel. - Plaintiffs had four separate law … Read More

    I feel the need to comment, as several things are missing in this story:

    This particular case did not involve students being escorted out of the classroom. Room confinement was not instituted as a result of anything that occurred within the classroom setting.

    The exorbitant amount of legal fees charged by the plaintiff’s attorneys is downright shameful…
    – $1.165 million in attorney fees for the plaintiff – compared to $175,000 for CCCOE’s counsel.
    – Plaintiffs had four separate law firms and numerous attorneys working on this case;
    – We believe the plaintiff’s attorneys are padding their pockets at the expense of our students.

    We were working through this with the Plaintiff’s attorneys trying to resolve the issue and reach a thoughtful conclusion without any legal action at all. That, apparently was not their interest, and here we are, 18 months and well over $1 million later with an agreement that essentially calls for “further study.”

    This was an extremely unfortunate use of taxpayer dollars when quick, simple, non-legal collaboration could achieved the same result.

    Replies

    • Jane Meredith Adams 3 years ago3 years ago

      Hi Terry. Thanks for reading the story. The scenario of a probation officer coming into a classroom and removing a disruptive student to the student's cell, or elsewhere, was what you described as a general scenario, not necessarily what happened in this case. The lawyers for the students said that efforts to settle the lawsuit earlier were stymied because the county stated it was in full compliance with special education law. The judge has the authority … Read More

      Hi Terry.

      Thanks for reading the story. The scenario of a probation officer coming into a classroom and removing a disruptive student to the student’s cell, or elsewhere, was what you described as a general scenario, not necessarily what happened in this case.

      The lawyers for the students said that efforts to settle the lawsuit earlier were stymied because the county stated it was in full compliance with special education law. The judge has the authority to award fees to the students’ lawyers, or not to award those fees.