Smiling child

Judge rejects MPS request to halt search for past special education students

By Alan J. Borsuk of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: July 22, 2009

Saying that Milwaukee Public Schools had already delayed too long in providing special education services to some students who were entitled to them years ago, a federal judge Wednesday rejected a request from MPS to halt the process of finding those students.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Aaron Goodstein acted quickly on the motion from MPS’ lawyers – they filed their request Tuesday.

“The cliché, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied,’ is appropriate here,” Goodstein wrote. “A decade of delay and denial has already caused substantial injury to class members; any continued delay will not only continue but exacerbate the harm.”

Goodstein ruled in June that a search should be undertaken to find students who did not get special education help they should have received from 2000 to 2005, and that an independent monitor should be appointed to oversee the search and decide what kind of help should be given to them now.

Two weeks ago, MPS leaders appealed Goodstein’s ruling and previous decisions he has made in the case that are leading to major changes in how MPS will determine which students get special education. That appeal was followed by the request to Goodstein this week to stop the search for past students. In June, Goodstein gave MPS and the organization that filed the case, Disability Rights Wisconsin, until Friday to come up with proposals for how to proceed.

In the new decision, Goodstein said MPS’ concerns that it would be harmed by proceeding with the search while the main appeal is pending didn’t carry as much weight as the urgency of helping the past students.

“When the harm of MPS’ failures is exacerbated by further delay, not only does every class member suffer, but the harm extends to the public as a whole,” he wrote. “The consequences of MPS’ systemic denial of FAPE (free and appropriate public education, as required by federal law) manifest themselves every day in countless varied ways throughout this community.”

Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney for the disability rights organization, said he was thrilled with the ruling. He said the request to delay was “another example of MPS choosing to pay attorneys instead of choosing to pay to educate students.”

In June, Goodstein asked the two sides to meet on how to find the students and a monitor for the process.

Spitzer-Resnick said he expects both sides to make their proposals separately by Friday.

MPS officials did not have immediate reaction.

Click here to read the article on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s website.