Federal lawsuit accuses AAPS and MDE of racketeering, inadequate pandemic special education

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This article was published on Michigan Radio by Caroline Llanes on July 5, 2021.

Ann Arbor Public Schools and the Michigan Department of Education are defendants in a lawsuit filed in federal court on June 30. The lawsuit, brought by parents of special education students in AAPS, alleges inadequate special education services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawsuit also accuses school officials, including AAPS superintendent Jeanice Swift and state superintendent Michael Rice, of racketeering. The suit says the defendents used interstate wires to collect federal funds, and used the funds to purchase personal protective equipment for staff and students, instead of providing special education services.

The students’ individualized education plans, or IEPs, changed without written notice or participation from the parents. The plaintiffs provided copies of IEP plans which outline the students’ progress and parents’ concerns. Several parents had expressed in the IEPs that they did not feel as though they had an accurate sense of where their children were, skill-wise.

One note from August 2020 from the parents of a fourth grader outlines more specific concerns, regarding their daughter’s behavior when it came to online learning. 

“Currently her emotional needs and mental health concerns (including self harm) are not represented on the IEP, because they had not presented themselves in the past in the school setting. Because school is now virtual, parents want to make sure that it is included in her IEP now,” the comments section reads. “She is resistant to come to the computer at all, will run away and hide, will participate, but then turn off the screen and walk away if upset or bored. In the spring incidents of violence became more often, not only due to school.”

The plaintiffs are seeking class action status for the suit. If granted, the lawsuit would represent all Michigan students who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

In terms of relief, the plaintiffs are asking for an independent evaluation of the students “to determine regressions and loss of competencies due to the unilateral changes to their IEPs and placements,” as well recommendations to the court regarding compensatory education or payments to address the learning loss.

Neither AAPS nor MDE were immediately available to comment on the lawsuit.