Suit Filed Against LAUSD on Behalf of Students with Special Needs
Updated: Aug 3, 2021
LOS ANGELES, December 15, 2020 — In order to secure essential in-person educational services for students with special needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, a litigation team from Milbank LLP, led by partner Alex G. Romain, filed suit on December 11 on behalf of petitioners Alliance for Children’s Rights (“the Alliance”) and Learning Rights Law Center (“Learning Rights”), both nonprofit organizations. The organizations are also represented by co-counsel Valerie Vanaman, of Newman Aaronson Vanaman, and Alexis Casillas, of The Law Offices of Alexis Casillas. The suit was filed in the Supreme Court of California against the Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”) and LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, in his official capacity seeking to prevent LAUSD from denying safe in-person assessments and instruction to those who want it and for whom it is an essential service. On December 14, the Supreme Court directed LAUSD to respond and address all issues raised in the petition. All briefings will be completed by December 28, 2020.
The petition for writ of mandate seeks immediate injunctive relief in response to LAUSD’s shutdown of all in-person assessments and instruction, effective December 10, 2020. The petition argues that California’s emergency Senate Bill 98 requires LAUSD to provide in-person assessments and instruction to students who cannot access the educational curriculum through distance learning. Senate Bill 98 directs local educational agencies, including public schools, to offer classroom-based instruction “whenever possible, particularly for pupils who have experienced significant learning loss due to school closures.” The petition does not seek to compel any students, teachers, or staff who are in COVID-19 high-risk categories, or live with someone in a high-risk category, to participate in in-person assessments or instruction, but rather to make them available for those who need it and want to participate.
“There is no question that significant learning loss has already occurred, is ongoing, and will lead to irreparable harm for these students,” said Milbank partner and Alliance board member Alex G. Romain. “This slow-motion catastrophe may have irreversible and life-long negative consequences for students. It can and should be addressed immediately, consistent with state and local public health guidelines that allow for safe, in-person instruction and related services in small cohorts.”
“Children with special needs urgently require support and services to thrive,” stated Jennifer L. Braun, President and CEO of the Alliance. “The public health authorities have said that there are safe ways to meet the needs of these students for months now, and other districts have found ways to support these vulnerable students. These children simply cannot wait any longer as these delays are leading to irreversible learning loss and trauma.”
Janeen Steel, Founder and Executive Director of the Learning Rights Law Center, added: “School closures have disrupted education for all children. But for vulnerable students with special needs, distance learning is impossible. That is why we have filed suit to ensure that these students safely receive the assessments and instruction that they need.”
The Milbank pro bono team representing the Alliance and Learning Rights includes Mr. Romain, associates Elena Kilberg, Alexandra Achamallah, Mollie Galchus and Lou Testani, and law clerks Kristen Kido and David Louison. Representatives for the Alliance for Children’s Rights include Ms. Braun and Angie Schwartz, Vice President, Policy and Advocacy. Representatives for Learning Rights include Ms. Steel.