Attorneys for a group of handicapped children yesterday accused the District government of violating a court order requiring the city to provide publicly supported education for school-age children with special educational needs.
The attorneys asked that various city officials be held in contempt of court and be forced to comply with rigid deadlines for providing the education. c
"A trail of bad faith, neglect and indifference" has been followed by the city and "should not be tolerated by the court," the attorneys said in asking U.S. District Judge John Garrett Penn to hold an expedited hearing on the issue.
The request, filed by the Mental Health Law Project and other attorneys on behalf of the children, listed at least 15 instances in which children had not been provided with an educational program as required by the earlier order.
They listed instances in which students were awaiting placement in schools far beyond a 50-day deadline set by previous orders, alleged failures by the city to provide appropriate education when the deadline was met, and said there was what they called a "systemwide policy" of denying institutional care to children who cannot function in a school environment.
D.C. School Board general counsel James Brown said yesterday he would have no comment on the specific allegations raised in the court papers, but said his office will probably ask that the action be dismissed altogether.
The lawyer filed their request yesterday in an eight-year-old lawsuit that had been handled by U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Waddy until his death last year.
In that case, Waddy issued a landmark decision stating that handicapped children had a constitutional right to a public education.After his initial ruling, the plaintiffs again came back to the judge complaining about the District's alleged inaction in providing the education.
Waddy held the District government in contempt of court in 1975, and appointed a special master to oversee the city's educational program for the handicapped. That led to further orders, with a final plan approved by Waddy in May 1978.
The attorneys for the children said yesterday the school board has not filed subsequent reports to the court as required by the earlier orders.
The attorneys pointed out that since Waddy's decree, new federal legislation has been passed involving much of the same material.
"To date, the District's history of compliance with its mandate has, to say the least, not been impressive," attorney Robert Plotkin of the Mental Health Law Project said. "Unfortunately, it appears that defendants are once again in flagrant violation of the rights of the handicapped children they are supposed to be serving."
Plotkin gave as one example a 13-year-old child identified as Kenny b., who has been diagnosed as emotionally disturbed and who "has been, for all practical purposes, excluded from the public school system."
He said Kenny B.'s files were lost by the city and no attempt had been made to place him in a school. "Every day that he is without services is gone forever, and those skills that he has already developed will be lost," Plotkin said.
He claimed that "several months of waiting may be inconsequential in the world of law and business," but that in a school year "even slight delays in providing services to handicapped children may cause regression that can never be overcome."