THE SANTA MONICA MALIBU UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT HAS CREATED A TWO-TRACK EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM THAT EXCLUDES MANY STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES FROM MATRICULATING INTO A FOUR YEAR COLLEGE PROGRAM

DREW BALAGUER, REINA ROBERTS, and MARK BALAGUER v. SANTA MONICA-MALIBU UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT,

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

Case No.: 2:14-cv-06823-CBM-MRW

COMPLAINT FOR VIOLATIONS OF:
(1) THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 ET SEQ.
(2) SECTION 504 OF THE REHABILITATION ACT, 29 U.S.C. §§ 794 ET SEQ.;
(3) THE INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION ACT, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 ET SEQ.

See Complaint here: document-142

See Plaintiffs’ Motion To Compel Further Responses here: document-143

“Plaintiffs ask this court to issue an order (3) compelling (a) Dr. Woolverton to respond to questions raised about documents produced by the Defendant which she previously refused to (upon the advice of counsel) to answer of the grounds that such questions sought information protected by attorney-client privilege; and (b) Ms. Keleher to respond to similar questions which she also refused to answer upon the advice of counsel

See Notice of Settlement here: document-141

DN-1002-15/16 (Special Education)
(postponed from 11/19/15)
Legal fees: $137,500
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $137,500. It was moved by Ms. Leon-Vazquez, seconded by Mr. Foster, and voted 6/0 (Dr. Escarce was absent) to approve the settlement case.

OVERVIEW

Under the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education, California has developed three tiers of public post-secondary education leading to a college degree: a two-year community college system, a four-year California State University (“CSU”) system, and a four-year University of California (“UC”) system. Students may earn degrees in any of these tiers, but there are significant differences between the four-year UC and CSU institutions and the community college system.

Only students who complete college and obtain a four-year degree reap the substantial economic benefits of a college education.

Students who enroll in community colleges are also much less likely to graduate than students in four-year programs: according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 45% of community college students leave school before they obtain their degree or certificate, a dropout rate nearly three times that of students in four-year institutions.

The public perception that students frequently transfer between community colleges and the UC/CSU system is belied by data showing that such transfers are relatively rare.4 Even for students who successfully transfer from community college to a four-year campus, the graduation rate among transfer students is “significantly lower” than for students who begin their post-secondary education at a four-year college. And even community college transfers who succeed in obtaining degrees at public four-year institutions generally take at least two years longer to do so.

Only 44% of these students receive their bachelor’s degree within six years. This average two-year delay both increases the tuition costs of obtaining the degree and eliminates two years of wage earning potential.

Aside from the economic benefits that redound to four-year degree holders, there are qualitative differences in the educational experiences provided by community colleges and public four-year institutions. For example, faculty at community colleges are less likely to engage in scholarly publications and research.

Students at two-year colleges will have fewer (if any) opportunities to participate in research projects and scholarship. The lack of this experience places these students at a disadvantage when entering the job market for entire fields of study.

California’s four-year postsecondary systems have more rigorous admissions requirements than community colleges. The primary difference is that the four-year UC/CSU system requires all applicants to have completed high school coursework that meets certain baseline academic standards. High schools must submit the curricula for their courses to ensure that it meets these minimum academic standards.8 Classes that do are known in California as offering “a-g credit.” High school graduates who earned “a-g credits” are eligible to apply and be admitted to a college in the UC/CSU system.

A student who lacks “a-g credits” cannot apply to the UC/CSU system and must attend a community college.

The District freely acknowledges the differences between the three tiers of post-secondary educational placements, and advertises its commitment “to graduate students with the most post-secondary options available to them.”

The class graduated by the District in 2010 sent 589 Santa Monica Malibu High School (“SAMOHI”) students to college.

Of those 589 college-bound students, 89 went to a CSU campus and 108 went to a UC campus. Combined, roughly one-third of the 2010 graduating class from SAMOHI matriculated directly into the UC/CSU system.

Due to the way the District educates students with disabilities at SAMOHI, however, it was impossible for D to be among them.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has created a two-track educational system at SAMOHI, which excludes many students with a disability from completing courses offering a-g credit.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District requires disabled students like D, whose disabilities prevent them from receiving instruction in general-education classrooms, to take special education courses designated “SAI classes.” SAI classes do not offer a-g credits—even though D and students like her are academically capable of a-g level work.

The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District thus precludes them as a matter of policy from matriculating directly to a four-year UC/CSU program.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has refused to submit the curriculum for any of the courses designated as SAI classes for a-g credit approval.

In contrast, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has applied for and obtained approval for more than 150 of its general education courses to award a-g credit.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s actions violated the IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA. When the District refused to offer Drew an appropriate educational program, her family was forced to identify and enroll her in an appropriate educational setting at their own expense, and to seek reimbursement from the District for the costs they incurred.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s actions also violated the IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA when it retaliated against the Plaintiffs for exercising their rights under these statutes.

When the Plaintiffs rejected educational placements offered by the District at Ds IEP meetings, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District unilaterally disenrolled her and refused to provide related services to which she was entitled.

PEW Research Center Report on the Disparity of Income Between High School Graduates and College Graduates.

The Rising Cost of Not Going To College

(finding that holders of four-year degrees earn $17,500 more than high school graduates, but holders of two-year community college degrees earn just $2,000 more).

The Rising Cost of Not Going to College

See PEW Research Report in pdf here:

SDT-higher-ed-FINAL-02-11-2014

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District

Board of Education

SPECIAL EDUCATION SETTLEMENTS

NOVEMBER 2013-DECEMBER 2015

Pursuant to Government Code §54956.9(d)(2)

1. DN-1001-13/14 (Special Education)
The substance of settlement agreement in case No. DN-1001-13/14 was as follows:
a) Legal Costs: $16,000
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $16,000. It was moved by Mr. Mechur,
seconded by Mr. Patel, and voted 6/0 (Mr. de la Torre was absent) to approve the
settlement case.

2. DN-1002-13/14 (Special Education)
The substance of settlement agreement in case No. DN-1002-13/14
was as follows:
a) Legal Costs: $14,000
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $14,000. It was moved by Mr. Mechur,
seconded by Mr. Patel, and voted 6/0 (Mr. de la Torre was absent) to approve the
settlement case.

3. DN-1003-13/14 (Special Education)
The substance of settlement agreement in case No. DN-1003-13/14 was as follows:
a) Legal Costs: $6,500
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $6,500.
It was moved by Mr. Mechur, seconded by Mr. Patel, and voted 6/0 (Mr. de la Torre
was absent) to approve the settlement case.

4. DN-1004-13/14 (Special Education)
The substance of settlement agreement in case No. DN-1004-13/14 was as follows:
a) Parent Reimbursement: $38,000
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $38,000. It was moved by Dr. Escarce,
seconded by Mr. de la Torre, and voted 7/0 to approve the settlement case.

5. DN-1006-13/14 (Special Education)
The substance of settlement agreement in case No. DN-1006-13/14 was as follows:
a) Parent Reimbursement: $19,000
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $19,000. It was moved by Ms. Lieberman,
seconded by Mr. Allen, and voted 7/0 to approve the settlement case.

6. DN-1007-13/14 (Special Education)
The substance of settlement agreement in case No. DN-1007-13/14 was as follows:
a) Parent Reimbursement: $13,600
b) Legal Cost: $15,000
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $28,600. It was moved by Mr. Mechur,
seconded by Dr. Escarce, and voted 7/0 to approve the settlement case.

7. DN-1008-13/14 (Special Education)
The substance of settlement agreement in case No. DN-1008-13/14 was as follows:
a) Parent Reimbursement: $60,000
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $60,000. It was moved by Mr. Mechur,
seconded by Dr. Escarce, and voted 7/0 to approve the settlement case.

8. DN-1009-13/14 (Special Education)
The substance of settlement agreement in case No. DN-1009-13/14 was as follows:
a)Legal Cost: $5,500
b) Parent Reimbursement: $7,500
The amended total cost for this case is not to exceed $13,000. It was moved by Mr.
Mechur, seconded by Dr. Escarce, and voted 7/0 to approve the settlement case.

9. DN-1005-13/14 (Special Education)
The substance of settlement agreement in case No. DN-1005-13/14 was as follows:
a) LegalCost: $5,000
b)Parent Reimbursement: $17,789.48
The total cost for this case is not to exceed$ 22,789.48. It was moved by Dr. Escarce,
seconded by Ms. Lieberman, and voted 7/0 to approve the settlement case.

10. Student vs. SMMUSD, OAH Case No. 2013051152
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Eileen M. Cohn, determined on December 23, 2013 that the
SMMUSD must reimburse parents for all of their tuition costs for a Non-Public School (NPS)
along with reimbursement for all tutoring expenses.
These amounts exceed $56,970.99 in tuition reimbursement thus far, and does not include
approx. $70,000 inattorneys fees. This tuition will need to be reimbursed for 3-4 more years as well.

11. DN-1002-14/15 (Special Education)

Legal Fees: $70,000

The total cost for this case is not to exceed $70,000. It was moved by Ms. Lieberman, seconded by Mr. Patel, and voted 7/0 to approve the settlement case.

12. DN-1003-14/15 (Special Education)

Parent Reimbursement: $ 5,000/month (11/1/14 through 7/31/15)

The total cost for this case is not to exceed $45,000. It was moved by Ms. Lieberman, seconded by Dr. Tahvildaran-Jesswein, and voted 5/0 (Dr. Escarcewas absent) to approve the settlement case.

13. DN-1004-14/15 (Special Education)

Educational Evaluation Services: $11,485

Legal Fees: $TBD as per OAH Case No. 2014040578

It was moved by Ms. Lieberman, seconded by Dr. Tahvildaran-Jesswein, and voted 5/0 (Dr. Escarce was absent) to approve the settlement case.

14. DN-1005-14/15 (Special Education)

Parent Reimbursement: $2,200/month during school year (through 2019-2020 or whenever the student graduates from high school, whichever comes first) It was moved by Ms. Lieberman, seconded by Mr. Mechur, and voted 6/0 (Mr. de la Torre was absent) to approve the settlement case.

May 21, 2015

15. DN-1006-14/15 (Special Education)

Parent reimbursement (legal fees & other related costs): $9,000

The total cost for this case is not to exceed $9,000

It was moved by Mr. Mechur, seconded by Ms. Lieberman, and voted 6/0 (Ms. Leon-Vazquez was absent) to approve the settlement case.

16. DN-1007-14/15 (Special Education)

Parent Reimbursement (educational placement & services): $55,000

The total cost for this case is not to exceed $55,000. It was moved by Dr. Tahvildaran-Jesswein, seconded by Mr. Foster, and voted 6/0(Ms. Leon-Vazquez was absent) to approve the settlement case.

JUNE 29, 2015

17. STUDENT vs. SANTA MONICA-MALIBU UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

Case No. 13-55665
District Court No. 2:12-cv-03059-SVWPJW

THE DISTRICT COURT HELD THAT THE SANTA MONICA-MALIBU UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT VIOLATED A STUDENT’S RIGHTS TO A FREE APPROPRIATE PUBLIC EDUCATION WHEN IT CONDUCTED AN IEP MEETING WITHOUT THE PARENTS’ PRESENCE

*Legal Fees in the amount of $215,000 were approved by the SMMUSD’s Board of Education on June 29, 2015.

See June 29, 2015 Board of Education Minutes: Re: Attorney’s Fee Settlement in the amount of $215,000

http://www.smmusd.org/brd1415/min062915_spmtg.pdf

DN-1009-14/15 (Special Education)
Legal fees & other related costs: $215,000
It was moved by Mr. Mechur, seconded by Ms. Lieberman, and voted 6/0 (Ms.Leon-Vazquez was absent) to approve the settlement case. Ayes: 6 (Lieberman, Escarce, de la Torre, Foster, Tahvildaran-Jesswein, Mechur)
September 2, 2015

18. DN-1001-15/16 (Special Education)

Attorney fees: $26,000
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $26,000. It was moved by Mr. De la Torre, seconded byMs. Leon-Vazquez, and voted 7/0 to approve the settlement case. Ayes: 7
October 1, 2015
19. DN-1002-15/16 (Special Education) TBD

20. DN-1003-15/16 (Special Education)

Legal fees $5,000
21. DN-1004-15/16 (Special Education)
Parent reimbursement: $25,000
The new total cost for this case is not to exceed
$31,000
 
22. DN-1005-15/16 (Special Education) TBD
Parent reimbursement: $30,000
The new total cost for this case is not to exceed $36,000
October 15, 2015

23. DN-1006-15/16 (Special Education)

Legal fees: $ 34,500

Family reimbursement: $552

December 10, 2015
24. DN-1002-15/16 (Special Education)
(postponed from 11/19/15)
Legal fees: $137,500
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $137,500. It was moved by Ms. Leon-Vazquez, seconded by Mr. Foster, and voted 6/0 (Dr. Escarce was absent) to approve the settlement case.
25. DN-1007-15/16 (Special Education)
Parent reimbursement: $16,920
Legal fees: $4,410
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $21,330.
It was moved by Ms. Leon-Vazquez, seconded by Mr. Foster, and voted 6/0 (Dr. Escarce was absent) to approve the settlement case. Ayes: 6 (Lieberman, de la Torre, Leon- Vazquez, Foster, Tahvildaran-Jesswein, Mechur)
26. DN-1008-15/16 (Special Education)
Parent reimbursement: $18,500
Legal fees: $24,000
The total cost for this case is not to exceed $42,500.
It was moved by Ms. Leon-Vazquez, seconded by Mr. Foster, and voted 6/0 (Dr.
Escarce was absent) to approve the settlement case.

See link to Malibu Times Article Entitled “School Woes”

http://www.malibutimes.com/opinion/article_37232886-0af6-11e5-9805-c79129c3012e.html

See SMMUSD District Parent’s comment:

beachshopgirl posted at 12:07 pm on Mon, Jun 8, 2015.

The SMMUSD has an inordinate amount of due process cases (16 this school term). That would be the norm for a district five times this size. If they go that hard against the parents of children with disabilities that should tell everyone else something. The District will never stop fighting this lawsuit from all indications, regardless of the insane conclusion that is bound to occur. It’s pathetic that they are willing to burn down the village in an effort to avoid repairing it. It’s time for a new Board of Education, a new Superintendent and a new Director of Special Education Services. We need people in leadership that understand that tax dollars are not monopoly money and that this is not a private parts measuring contest.

Below is how the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District treats some of its Special Education families.

See link to Santa Monica Dispatch Article Concerning Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Disrict’s Retaliatory Acts Against Students and Parents by filing false claims of child abuse with the Department of Children and Family Services:

http://www.santamonicadispatch.com/2009/01/smmusd-vs-student/

SMMUSD vs. Student

By Debra Shepherd

Good evening Council members. I am the parent of a child in general education and a child who requires special education services. I am also a member of the Working Group.

Although the non-disclosure agreements are no longer being used to my knowledge, the environment that brought about the use of those agreements still exists.

When a problem arises, there does not seem to be an ability to resolve the problem without input from the attorneys. Since November of 2008, the District has been more adversarial toward my family by threatening me with due process litigation at tax payers’ expense. The SMMUSD refuses to even acknowledge that my daughter has an autism spectrum disorder despite multiple pages of detailed assessments from UCLA in a school setting that have been a part of my child’s records for the last 4 years.

The District is also attempting to take needed services and accommodations out of my child’s educational program. I had to fight for two years for my daughter to receive occupational therapy services.

My extended family has also traveled thousands of miles to help me with these issues. The SMMUSD would rather spend thousands of tax payer dollars suing me than pay for a needed assessment for my child or provide her with a free and appropriate education as mandated by law.

I thought that we had reached our lowest point in the journey when school staff filed a false report against me with child services in retaliation against me for hiring an attorney. My youngest child is still not recovered from the trauma of that incident. I am also disturbed by the number of families of color that have left the district. When families of color complain about how they are treated by the district, their address is verified. This whole situation has taken a toll on my health and the well-being of my family.

See links to other litigation relating to other SMMUSD Retaliatory Acts:

Student & Parents vs. Wendy Wax Gellis & Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District:

This lawsuit alleges that the SMMUSD and Wendy Wax Gellis are criminally liable for violations of California Penal Code § 11166 and 11172(a) et seq. for filing a knowingly false child abuse report with child services and the police.

Santa Monica Dispatch Article Concerning Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Retaliatory Acts Against Students and Parents by Filing False Claims of Child Abuse with the Department of Children & Family Services.

See link to News Article here: http://www.santamonicadispatch.com/2009/01/smmusd-vs-student/

The lawsuit alleges that an example of retaliatory action by the SMMUSD and Wendy Wax Gellis taken against this family includes knowingly and maliciously filing a false child rape and domestic violence allegation with the local law enforcement and with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in retaliation for parent’s exercise of their federally protected right to bring claims against the SMMUSD before the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

The family alleges that on December 18, 2013, SMMUSD employee named Wendy Wax Gellis made a knowingly false referral to the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and to local law enforcement that parent raped her own son. The allegations were determined by all investigating agencies to be unfounded.

For details of this pending Federal lawsuit go to:

https://lawofficesofbarryfagan.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/santa-monica-dispatch-article-concerning-smmusds-retaliatory-acts-against-students-and-parents-by-filing-false-claims-of-child-abuse-with-the-department-of-children-family-services/

The SMMUSD’s Adversarial Posturing is Costing the SMMUSD Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars and Causing Unnecessary Harm to These Special Education Families.

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