On September 6, 2001, seven families residing in the Independent School District (ISD) Anoka-Hennepin filed the first class action lawsuit in Minnesota against a public school district and the State of Minnesota on behalf of their disabled children. The case, known as Reinholdson v. State of Minnesota, et al, was filed in U.S. Federal District Court and alleges that the Anoka-Hennepin School District and the State of Minnesota have denied them an education as required. Due to the September 11 tragedies, the parents waited until October 10 to bring this announcement to the public.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that mandates special education and related services to eligible disabled children. There are also Minnesota laws requiring such services. The State of Minnesota’s Department of Children, Families and Learning (MDCFL) is the state agency responsible to ensure such services are provided.
Minnesota, like all other states in the United States, was found to be out of compliance with the IDEA in a January 2000 report released by the National Council on Disability (NCD). In reporting to then-President Clinton, the NCD found that despite 25 years of funding, the majority of states and school districts are not complying with the federal law. Although the State of Minnesota was no exception,until now, no parents have challenged the statewide noncompliance problems.
The Anoka-Hennepin School District receives federal and state special education funding for over 5000 children in special education and related services. The parents contend that their children are being deprived of the services to which they are entitled because the Anoka-Hennepin School District is not complying with the law and the State of Minnesota is not taking action to ensure the District does comply with the law. A recent internal study of the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s special education program supports the parents’ claims. The study, released late this summer, made 53 recommendations for improvement in the program, especially concerning staff development and ensuring that administrators and staff are given training to work effectively with children with disabilities.
The parents involved have filed various complaints and administrative hearings against the ISD 11 over the past couple of years to attempt to obtain certain basic services for their children. The children involved have a variety of disabilities, including autism, Down Syndrome, medical problems, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities. They have encountered numerous problems:
Some parents have settled their differences with the ISD 11 without litigation, only to find a few weeks later that the ISD 11 was not complying with their agreements.
One family, whose child needed a $600 device to help her communicate, has watched in amazement as the ISD 11 spent over $70,000 to fight providing the device.
Two of the named families have seen the district spend thousands of dollars in attorney fees in an effort to refuse to provide their children with desperately needed reading services.
One child, with both physical and other disabilities, was denied properly trained aides to help him succeed in regular education classes.
Another child was 17 years old before her parent was even told about the child’s rights. The child was at home and went without any education for nearly a year.
In 1999, the MDCFL warned the district that it had received more complaints about the district than any other in Minnesota and found that the ISD had a “non-compliant corrupt” process for the delivery of special education services. It urged the ISD 11 to consider replacing its Special Education Director, Susan Butler. Butler, who remains employed as the director, is named individually in the lawsuit.
Information on this lawsuit was provided by the Kerr Law Offices in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. They, along with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, are representing the families involved.