California Supreme Court won’t compel LAUSD to offer in-person services to high-needs students

California Supreme Court won’t compel LAUSD to offer in-person services to high-needs students

The California Supreme Court has denied a petition seeking to force the Los Angeles Unified School District to provide instruction and other services in person to students who have been most harmed by distance learning.

The petition was filed last month on behalf of two Los Angeles-based children’s advocacy groups, the Alliance for Children’s Rights and the Learning Rights Law Center. In it, the petitioners argued that students with disabilities, English learners and others who struggle with online learning should receive small group, in-person instruction “to the maximum extent possible” consistent with county health guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.

They also sought to compel the nation’s second-largest school district to resume in-person special education assessments and other services laid out in a student’s individualized education plan and to provide the necessary accommodations in a distance learning environment.

The court’s decision to reject the petition, including a request for injunctive relief, was handed down Wednesday, Jan. 20, without a written opinion.

Alex Romain, lead attorney for the advocacy groups, called the court’s decision a “profound disappointment” affecting thousands of students.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

“These students cannot access education online, have gone without meaningful access to education since March 2020, and will now likely lose the entire 2020-21 school year,” Romain said in a statement, calling the situation a “slow-motion catastrophe.”

“Notwithstanding the Court’s decision, we hope that the District will not abandon these students who often have no voice and who have experienced such extraordinary learning loss during this pandemic,” he continued.

LAUSD has not responded to a request for comment.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who was named a defendant in the petition along with the school district, has repeatedly said students learn best in a classroom. However, the district has never allowed the maximum number of students to return to campus for in-person instruction and services as permitted by the county, citing concerns about health and safety during the pandemic.

It had provided some small-group and individualized services to some of its highest-needs students in the fall, but those offerings were suspended in mid-December amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

The county’s public health director subsequently encouraged all K-12 campuses to remain closed through January, though she did not mandate it, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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