On March 6, 1981, parents on behalf of students in the Rochester City School District in Rochester, New York, filed a class action law suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), 20 U.S.C. § 1401, et seq., in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York against the Rochester City School District and the New York State Department of Education. The class consisted of all students in the City School District who were or might be disabled. The Monroe County Legal Assistance Corp., Public Interest Law of Rochester, and the Empire Justice Center represented the class. The plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as damages, alleging that the City School District's failure to provide a free, appropriate public education to special education students violated rights protected under the Constitution, in addition to State and federal statutes.
The plaintiffs complained that the City School District neglected special education and potential special education students by failing to promptly evaluate students for the presence of a disability, failing to promptly place students in appropriate programs, failing to provide appropriate special education programs, and failing to establish goals for special education students or monitor progress towards those goals. The complaint further alleged that the defendant failed to allow special education students to fully participate in extracurricular activities, failed to advise parents of their rights with respect to educating special education students, and failed to allow parental participation in the special education process.
Before answering the complaint the defendants moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs were required to exhaust all administrative remedies under the EHA. The District Court (Judge John T. Elfvin) denied the defendants' motion reasoning that the EHA provided for a cause of action seeking relief for system wide violations of the Act, therefore, the plaintiffs were not required to exhaust administrative remedies before filing the action.
After negotiation, the parties reached an agreement, which was entered as a consent order on August 11, 1983. The State defendants, however, refused to enter into and sign the consent decree. The overriding goal of the agreement was that the Rochester City School District would improve the way it provided special education services to special needs students. The improvements would be made by evaluating and placing students in special education programs in a more timely manner, monitoring student progress, facilitating and encouraging parent and student participation in the process, creating individualized educational programs, and conducting more thorough evaluations. The agreement was modified in 1989, by agreement of the parties, to incorporate changes in the state and federal regulations.
In July of 1986, District Court (Judge Telesca) granted the plaintiffs' motion to dismiss the complaint against the State Department of Education without prejudice. The plaintiffs also moved for an award of attorneys' fees and costs, which the court denied, reasoning that because the plaintiffs were afforded full relief under the EHA, they could not recover attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 for the un-litigated constitutional claims. The plaintiffs appealed the denial of attorneys' fees, and while the appeal was pending the EHA was amended to provide for an award of attorneys' fees to the prevailing party. The appeal was withdrawn and the plaintiffs moved to reconsider the motion for attorneys' costs and fees. On December 3, 1986, the District Court (Judge Telesca) denied the plaintiffs' motion as regarding the State defendants, but granted the motion as regarding the Rochester City School District. J.G. v. Bd. of Educ. of Rochester City Sch. Dist., 684 F. Supp. 1452 (W.D.N.Y. 1986). The Rochester City School District appealed the decision. On September 29, 1987, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Judge Ellsworth Alfred Van Graafeiland) affirmed the District Court's decision regarding the award of attorneys' fees and costs, but modified the amount awarded. J.G. v. Bd. of Educ. of Rochester City Sch. Dist., 830 F.2d 444 (2d Cir. 1987).
In October 1991, the plaintiffs expressed concerns about the defendants' compliance with the Consent Decree. In response to those concerns, the parties negotiated an Enforcement Order, which provided for more timely referrals to the Committee on Special Education, for the development and implementation of Individualized Education Programs (IEP), for discipline policies and procedures, for the accessibility of all District programs to disabled students, and for an inclusion model to provide services in each special education students' home school or school of choice. The Order was entered by the District Court (Judge Telesca) on October 15, 1993.
In 1996, the plaintiffs complained that the defendants were not complying with either the 1983 Consent Decree, as amended, or the 1993 Enforcement Order. Specifically, the defendants were not evaluating potentially disabled children in a timely fashion, and therefore were not making timely placement recommendations. The plaintiffs further alleged that the parents of special education students were misinformed about the educational options for their children and were not allowed to participate in decisions that affected their children's placement in special education programs. The parties negotiated a new Consent Decree that focused mainly on the results. The Decree set specific standards in the categories of: (1) timely recommendations by the Committee on Special Education and the Committee on Preschool Special Education; (2) timely placement of students in appropriate programs once evaluations had occurred; (3) parental participation and satisfaction; (4) nondiscrimination and equal access; and (5) inclusion in mainstream curriculum and education in the least restrictive environment. The new agreement was accepted by the District Court (Judge Telesca) on May 1, 1997 and provided that the Consent Decree and the court's jurisdiction was to terminate on May 1, 2000.
After the 1997 Consent Decree had expired on May 1, 2000, the District Court (Judge Telesca) issued an Order to Show Cause why a formal order terminating the Consent Decree and ending the case should not be entered. The plaintiffs argued that the court should retain jurisdiction, because the defendants were not in compliance with the consent decree, or state and federal law. The court, however, on January 14, 2002, held that the 1997 Consent Decree had expired under its own terms and dismissed the case with prejudice. J.G. v. Bd. of Educ. of Rochester City Sch. Dist., 193 F. Supp. 693 (W.D.N.Y. 2002). The case is closed.Kaitlin Corkran - 06/15/2006