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Lawsuit Alleges Public Schools Violating Americans With Disabilities Act

Four Wisconsin Schools Accused Of Not Accepting Special-Needs Students Through Open Enrollment


Lawyers for the parents of six special-needs students are asking a federal judge to declare that Wisconsin’s open enrollment program violates the federal American’s with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuit against four school districts and the Department of Public Instruction was filed in November. This week, attorney CJ Szafir of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a motion asking judge William Conley to rule on the case now. Szafir said the districts being sued have refused to accept special needs students who apply for a transfer under the open enrollment program.

“This is a major problem,” said Szafir. “Last year there were over 1,000 kids who were denied the ability to choose their own public school just based solely because they have a disability.”

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The state Department of Justice is defending the DPI in the suit and has a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation. A trial in the case is set for April 2016.

Szafir said his clients aren’t challenging the entire open enrollment policy, just the way it’s being implemented by these school districts. The program doesn’t require school districts to accept any students through open enrollment, and it allows districts to set quotas for the number of students they will accept. Szafir said as long as special needs students apply in time to meet the deadlines for the quotas, then they should be accepted. If more than the quota apply, districts can use a lottery system to fill the quota. But Szafir said federal law prohibits them from excluding special needs students simply on the basis of their disability.

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