2020 Victories: The ACLJ Is Scoring Big Wins for Families Facing Pandemic-Related School Issues as We Continue To Fight for Educational Justice
This is the latest installment of our year-end victories series looking back at some of the numerous victories by the ACLJ in 2020. In 2020, the ACLJ launched an expansive School Choice Initiative in response to school closures and at-home learning brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. And as schools began shutting their doors but still collecting tax dollars from working families, we immediately took action to support parents who felt their kids were being denied educational opportunities. Within weeks, our team began delivering victories for American families. Our legal team was contacted by some 1,700 individual families across 48 states and the District of Columbia. We listened to their specific issues and determined if we could offer assistance. One consistent issue many families have been facing during the Coronavirus pandemic has been adequate equipment – computers, tablets, or even just reliable Internet connectivity – to complete remote learning. In one case, a disabled parent in Georgia with two sons – both suffering from asthma – contacted us because the boys needed laptops in order to complete assignments on the school’s remote learning platform. This frustrated parent’s requests to the school continually went unanswered. Our team sent a letter; and not only did the school respond , it provided laptops for each of her sons. In another case in Georgia, our letter on behalf of parents whose child has learning challenges and has suffered under a remote learning program, facilitated a response from school officials who have agreed to meet and conduct a proper evaluation to determine the specific learning needs and support necessary for their child to succeed. Similarly, the ACLJ helped families in Texas whose children didn’t have the computers needed for distance learning. Our legal team’s guidance assisted the parents in obtaining these resources. We were also able to assist multiple families in California in need of childcare and student supervision. The ACLJ was able to direct the parents to the proper state-issued resource which answered questions about paid time off from work and provided information about supervised child care centers. Several single parents who have found it especially difficult to manage their children’s educational needs during this difficult time reached out to us for help. In multiple cases, these parents hadn’t even received a response, let alone guidance from their children’s schools. They felt helpless, and that is unacceptable. Public schools are supported by taxpayers. They are obligated to work with these families – not ignore them. We’ve also been contacted by families with children who have specific special needs, and we have advocated on their behalf with school officials. In one victory, our legal team sent an Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) letter on behalf of an Idaho family whose child had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that was not being fulfilled. The day after receiving our letter, the school contacted the family and requested a meeting with them to discuss the issues the family was facing. The family and the school reached an arrangement that included in-person schooling two days a week for the IEP student, as well as transportation for the student on those days. And the school also provided the family with a wireless hot-spot and two laptops to assist the family’s other children. The ACLJ represented a parent in North Carolina whose autistic daughter had been unable to do online work. When the school chose to go fully virtual, the girl’s teacher volunteered to visit the home a few days a week for in-person instruction, but inexplicably, the school district wouldn’t allow it. The parent then found a therapy group that would walk her daughter through her studies, but the service was costly. Since the school district had refused to allow the student to receive much needed in-person instruction from her teacher, we asked the school to help with the cost of a tutor, as well as group therapy sessions typically provided by the school during in-person learning. Another parent in North Carolina whose son has special needs contacted the ACLJ because the school wasn’t fulfilling the IEP. The school had not responded to any of his emails asking for help, wherein he stated that his child cannot understand any instruction offered through online learning. Our client was unable to return to work and needed to find a tutor or other program to help his son understand and complete his schoolwork. We worked with the father to determine what would best meet his son’s educational needs and contacted the school. We had a HUGE victory for a California family whose child was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Before the COVID-19 school closures, he was cognitively at grade level but could not function in a typical classroom. The child was placed into a special day class for behavior-challenged children, with modified behavior therapy built into the classroom instruction. The curriculum also included special visits with the school psychologist to help them, as well as weekly speech services, individual and group, and Occupational Therapy (OT) consults per his IEP. Unfortunately, during the school shutdown, he regressed because his IEP was not being followed. His parents had no choice but to enroll him at a Kumon learning center at additional expense to work on his IEP, behavioral issues, and OT. His parents requested that the school reimburse them for the cost of the program now that the school is not meeting in-person this fall. We obtained a signed settlement agreement from the school district to reimburse the parents for the additional instruction expenses. We also helped score a big win at the U.S. Supreme Court for parents who wish to send their kids to a private, religious school. Montana’s State Supreme Court ruled that private scholarships provided by private donors could NOT be used to send children to religious private schools, because donors receive a state income tax credit. When some parents filed a lawsuit challenging the rule, a state trial court originally agreed that the exclusionary rule was invalid but Montana’s Supreme Court reversed the decision, saying the state’s constitution forbade the program from including religious schools. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where we filed two amicus briefs supporting the parents. The High Court agreed with the arguments in our filings, ruling to uphold the school choice program including religious schools, declaring:“A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” These are just a sampling of the cases we’ve taken on this past year. We appreciate these schools that have worked with us to provide customized, out-of-the-box solutions to parents and kids during these unprecedented times. However, our work continues. We will continue fighting for school choice and to ensure that all children receive the best educational opportunities available. To help the ACLJ continue to have the resources we need to make these victories possible and stand up for American families and students, please consider making a Tax-Deductible donation to the ACLJ through our year-end Matching Challenge. Your gift will be DOUBLED dollar-for-dollar through the end of the year. You can read more in the ACLJ’s 2020 Victories Series here . Chip in today and double your impact.