Operating public charter schools can be a challenging venture for many reasons, yet it’s also rewarding to see students grow both academically and socially over time. Although it’s often thought of as an employment-related law, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is implicated in student and classroom mangement as well.
Education professionals know that students with disabilities are just as capable as students without disabilities. However, in some circumstances they may need additional help or guidance. It’s vital to be prepared with the necessary equipment and personnel that are ready to help if assistance is requested.
Recently, the United States Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest on June 26, 2023 in federal court litigation around the conduct of school authorities in Florida. Echoing parents’ claims in D.P, et al. v. School Board of Palm Beach County, the DOJ contended that the Palm Beach County Schools failed to adequately handle children with disabilities.
In this school district, children as young as nine with disabilities like autism and other emotional or behavioral disabilities had been removed from school by police while experiencing disability-related behavioral episodes. Placing them in handcuffs the police deposited the children at locked psychiatric facilities for involuntary examinations, in some cases, for several days. The federal court claim is that the schools discriminated against these children, violating the ADA, when they didn’t reasonably modify their policies, practices, and procedures for disabled children in crisis and, instead, simply called in the police.
The DOJ contended that public entities like school boards have an obligation to reasonably modify their behavioral responses by helping children calm down by involving professionals such as a mobile crisis team, the child’s therapist, and/or calling the child’s guardian. These actions are necessary under the ADA even if the child has not made a request for these modifications.
Interestingly, within three days of the DOJ’s filing, settlement became imminent on the majority of the plaintiffs’ claims.
A key takeaway from this litigation is for schools to engage with mental health and legal professionals – in advance – to identify best and most legally-compliant practices for managing students with behavioral disabilities. Of course, schools are well advised to coordinate with parents and guardians as well as a student’s personal counselors and provide ongoing professional development to their faculty and other employees in order to effectively de-escalate troublesome circumstances.
At The Coppola Firm, we work closely with charter schools to provide guidance and support as well as training. Our team is always happy to help. Please reach out to us at 716.839.9700 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.