Parents, advocacy group ask federal judge to stop Michigan schools from going virtual
Parents of Ann Arbor Public Schools' students with disabilities asked a federal judge Wednesday to stop Michigan schools from shifting to remote learning amid another COVID-19 surge.
The Brain Injury Rights Group, a New York-based organization that advocates for children and adults with disabilities, asked U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy to issue a temporary restraining order to stop schools from closing without the consent of parents of children receiving special education services.
Ann Arbor Public Schools shifted to remote learning this week with plans to return to in-person classes on Monday.
"Since the pandemic's beginning, we have learned that students attending
school remotely suffer socially, emotionally, and academically," attorneys for the parents wrote in the filing. "Special education students suffer more so than non-disabled students."
The parents sued Ann Arbor schools, the Washtenaw County Intermediate School District and the Michigan Department of Education in the Eastern District of Michigan federal court in June over moves to virtual learning earlier in the pandemic.
Michigan Department of Education officials did not respond to a request for comment. Ann Arbor Public Schools does not comment on pending litigation, said spokesman Andrew Cluley.
The request for a temporary restraining order seeks to stop all school districts in the state from remote instruction. This week, several school districts in the state, including Detroit Public Schools Community District and the Lansing School District, began the year remotely because of the latest wave of the virus.
On Wednesday, Michigan set a new record for the highest average daily COVID-19 case count for the second time in a week.
Online learning is especially challenging for the estimated 200,000 Michigan students receiving special education services and is also a violation of the students' federal civil rights, the group says.
The Michigan Department of Education receives funding pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other federal and state laws, "and therefore must comply with the statutes’ provisions," the lawsuit says.
The primary way of compliance is through an Individualized Education Plan, a written plan that outlines special education and other services to enable that child to achieve a comprehensive set of annual goals and short-term objectives, according to the lawsuit.
When local school districts change their educational programs by closing schools and keeping students in special education programs home to receive “remote learning,” they violate the federal civil rights of the students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Patrick Donohue, a civil rights attorney and founder of the Brain Injury Rights Group, said in a statement.
"It is inexcusable for school districts to continue to violate the rights of special education students by closing schools eighteen months after ‘Two Weeks To Stop The Spread’!," Donohue said.
The Brain Injury Rights Group made a similar request to a federal judge in New Jersey for a temporary restraining order and said it would file motions in other states.