July 28, 2017 – Los Angeles, CA – Today, after nearly 8 years of hard-fought litigation, Honorable Judge Dolly M. Gee of the Central District Court granted final approval of a comprehensive settlement agreement with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) in a class action lawsuit challenging the widespread failures in the provision and monitoring of special education services to students detained in the Los Angeles County Jail (LACJ). The settlement requires LASD to ensure that eligible students are provided the opportunity to receive appropriate special education and related services while in the LACJ, by creating systems for the identification of eligible students, requiring that physical space be reserved for the delivery of services, mandating training for Sheriff’s personnel on the rights of students to obtain special education, and monitoring for an additional two-year period between the County and Class Counsel.
Named Plaintiff Michael Garcia, who from early childhood was eligible for and had received special education services to address a learning disability, was shocked to find that no special education services were being provided in the LACJ. Before being transferred to the county jail at age 18, he had received special education services in juvenile hall. Despite being eligible to receive special education services until the age of 22 and despite his continued efforts to obtain those services while in the LACJ, Mr. Garcia was not provided with any special education services. Instead, he struggled to access a general education curriculum. Without any of the previous special education supports and accommodations that he had received and was entitled to receive, Mr. Garcia was doomed to fail.
Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC) and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy (Milbank) filed the class action lawsuit in federal court in 2009 on behalf of named Plaintiff Garcia and a class of similarly situated individuals, claiming that the failure to provide special education to eligible students in Los Angeles County Jails violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other federal legal protections. The settlement has already resulted in significant changes in the massive jail system, including that LASD has contracted with a charter school to provide special education services and has already implemented a system to track students who are eligible for special education services.
The improvements represent “a huge step in the right direction towards ensuring that students with disabilities receive special education while in jail,” according to Anna Rivera, Senior Staff Attorney at DRLC. “We hope that other jail facilities will embrace the model improvements made by the LA County Jail, so that all students detained in jail facilities across the country obtain the special education services that they are entitled to under federal law.”
While many of the changes will not be felt directly by Mr. Garcia, his role has been instrumental in making certain that current and future students will not face the same shortcomings of the system that he did. Director of Litigation for DRLC, Maronel Barajas, says, “This settlement reflects the persistence and courage of people like Michael Garcia, who fight for the rights of people with disabilities to obtain an appropriate education long after they have been released or transferred elsewhere.”
Samir L. Vora, Senior Counsel for Milbank, believes that these systemic changes will ensure that “students with disabilities are taught in a manner that they are able to learn, and not just left to languish without any means or hope of obtaining an appropriate education. Now, because of this settlement, these students stand a chance to be successful in life and contribute to society upon release.”