MoFo Secures School District Settlement Requiring Major Improvements to Services for Students with Disabilities

New York State’s Mount Vernon School District will be required to significantly improve its compliance rate with laws and regulations governing the education of students with disabilities.

These improvements are the product of negotiations by a MoFo pro bono team and their co-counsel, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, settling a suit they filed against the Mount Vernon City School District in 2013 on behalf of seven individual children who were denied the “free and appropriate education” guaranteed to them under federal law.

The suit, M.H. et al. v. The Mount Vernon City School District, claimed that, due to systematic failures, the District had failed to meet important deadlines or provide the required educational services to support children with disabilities.

While not the result of a class action, the settlement secures systemic changes that will benefit all students in the District who have special needs.

“We realized through our work on this case that these systematic failures didn’t simply apply to a handful of students,” said Morrison & Foerster associate Sarah Prutzman, the firm’s pro bono team leader on the case. “There were many  students whose educational needs were being neglected.”

The terms of the agreement secured by Sarah, her fellow team members, and their co-counsel require the District to, among other things, undertake approximately 90 concrete remedial actions designed to improve educational services for students with disabilities, including implementing a data system that allows for real-time monitoring of the district’s delivery of special education services.

The agreement also requires the District to meet certain performance metrics, such as improving its graduation rate for students with disabilities to at least the statewide average by June 2021.

Progress in taking these remedial actions and the meeting performance metrics is to be monitored by a third-party special education expert for at least three years and thereafter until full compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement is achieved.

The case is ongoing with respect to other named defendants: the New York State Department of Education and its commissioner. The complaint alleges that those parties failed to take action even after repeatedly identifying shortcomings in services provided by the District to students with disabilities.