The parents of three special-needs students are suing both their communities and the state for the harm they say was done to their children in the way schools suddenly switched to online education in March, 2020 and in the way they say their schools did nothing to help provide the special teaching and assistance the children needed to work online.
In a suit filed in US District Court in Boston last month, the parents are seeking to become lead plaintiffs in a class-action suit on behalf of all families in the state with children who have "individualized education plans" or IEPs.
In addition to asking a court to declare they were wronged, the parents are seeking the appointment of a special master to oversee the tens of millions of dollars the state and local school departments receive in federal special-education funds and to ensure that students not only get the IEPs they deserve but that the plans are followed. Also, the parents seek an extra year of publicly funded education for the students, all teens, to make up for what they lost during the pandemic.
In their complaint, the parents allege the sudden switch to online violated a requirement of federal law that requires school districts to alert and consult with parents of special-needs students before making any major changes to their educational plans and failed to convene parent meeting later to ensure the students were getting an adequate education; that the teens were denied the "free and appropriate public education" guaranteed them by federal law. They add that this also violated the families' rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the equal-protection and due-process clauses of the 14th Amendment.
The complaint also charges state and local school officials with violating the federal racketeering law, because state officials, specifically Charlie Baker and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Secretary Jeffrey Riley, and school officials in the three communities worked to "defraud Plaintiffs, the beneficiaries of [federal special-needs education funds], by making false assurances that the DESE and [the school districts] complied with [the federal special-needs law] during the COVID-19 Pandemic."
The suit does not allege that Baker, Riley and the three school superintendents specifically conspired with each other but that both the state department Riley heads and the individual school departments are large enterprises that their leaders used to defraud the families and the federal government "through false assurances" to the feds that Massachusetts was complying with the federal law mandating equal education for students with special needs.
The suit charges that Baker is just as guilty because "by allowing Defendants' conduct to continue, Defendant Governor Charles Baker remained complicit in the scheme. "
The parents are represented by a lawyer for the Brain Injury Rights Group of New York.