Smiling child

Time for MPS to Make Good its Debt

DRW Managing Attorney Monica Murphy wrote the following op-ed for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Stop fighting and start serving neglected students
By Monica Murphy

Posted: July 24, 2009

The Editorial Board has again urged a settlement in the Disability Rights Wisconsin special education lawsuit against Milwaukee Public Schools (“Time for a settlement,” July 14). While these editorials have supported providing services to students who were wrongly denied them, a position we at DRW strongly agree with, the issue is no longer one of settlement but of resolution and delivering those long overdue services.

Settlement implies negotiation and compromise. DRW has been trying to do just that for close to 10 years.

For a year before we filed our lawsuit, we met with officials from both MPS and the state Department of Public Instruction, asking them to address our concerns. Since this lawsuit was filed in 2001, we have been through several rounds of unsuccessful negotiations.

In 2007, U.S. Magistrate Judge Goodstein found that both MPS and DPI had violated students’ rights under special education law. Another round of settlement talks began. We reached a settlement with DPI at that point. The results of that settlement were approved by the judge and its terms are being implemented in an effort to improve MPS services for the future.

But MPS resisted and continues to resist the implementation of the DPI settlement, recently asking the Court of Appeals to throw out the judge’s order.

Being unable to reach a settlement with MPS, we proceeded to trial on that issue. We clearly spelled out what we were looking for in compensatory service for the class of students we represent. Judge Goodstein made a remedy ruling on June 9. He did not give plaintiffs everything they were looking for, but the court spelled out his plan for remedy, including the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee compensatory services to students whose rights were violated.

MPS has asked the Court of Appeals to throw out that decision as well.

According to its press release, MPS claims it cannot accept the court’s order because it will be too costly. The special education law makes no exceptions for districts experiencing financial constraints.

The Editorial Board seems to have bought the MPS excuses – and seems to think that the appeal was a reasonable attempt to pressure DRW to negotiate and bargain some more. However, no offer has been put forth by MPS since the court’s remedy decision.

Now is the time for MPS to accept the court’s ruling, implement its terms and deliver appropriate services to qualifying students. The time for further delays in educating MPS students has passed. Now is the time for action. It is especially beneficial to MPS to implement the remedy now as it expects to receive close to $300 million in stimulus funds over the next two years.

No more excuses. Students have been waiting too long.

Monica Murphy is managing attorney of Disability Rights Wisconsin.

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