Almost 300,000 students in Ohio have special needs. According to the law, an appropriate education for these students is not a privilege, but a right.
Recently, a class-action lawsuit filed against Ohio in 1991 by eight students with disabilities and their parents was approved partial settlement by a federal judge.
"This is a huge victory for special-education students", said Margaret Burley, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities.
According to Catherine Candisky from The Columbus Dispatch, some parents are forced to shop for a school that will adequately serve their children, which make up about 15 percent of Ohio's public-school students.
The Ohio Department of Education (DOE) is required to ensure school districts provide services outlined by the federal government. One of its goals is to simplify the difficult system, which has proven difficult to navigate.
In fact, Candisky reports that in 2008, the Ohio DOE reviewed 440 complaints regarding special-education services and ordered districts to take corrective action in 120 of them.
Burley added, "A lot can be accomplished with this consent order. It's huge…and that the settlement should ensure that special-needs children get the services they are entitled to.”
IDEA 2004, the federal special education law, requires that all children ages 3 to 21 years old, who qualify, receive a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), regardless of the child’s disability.
With this settlement the DOE is required to publicly post how school districts are:
• Meeting requirements
• Conducting thorough and open investigations of complaints
• Issuing findings within 60 days and,
• Ensuring districts are providing required services
Susan G. Tobin, chief legal counsel for Ohio Legal Rights Services, said the settlement gives parents "the opportunity to be notified (and) the opportunity to be heard."
Still at issue is whether the funding is available to meet the requirements of the settlement.