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Monterey County - the Herald

October 29, 2010

Suit seeks to uphold mental health services for kids

Among the $1 billion in cuts that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger slashed with his recent line-item budget veto was $133 million for mental health services for students with severe disabilities.

Mental health advocates are fighting back.

Related: Local colleges enable the disabled

A class-action lawsuit was filed last week in federal court by Public Counsel, Disability Rights California, Mental Health Advocacy Services and a private law firm. They say the services' elimination violates the federal rights of more than 20,000 special education students across the state.

"While the adults quibble about who is responsible — for funding, for services, for this entire mess — it is the children who are harmed," Laura Faer of Public Counsel in a news release.

The services at risk provide crisis counseling, case management, medication and residential placement for the children.

The line-item vetoes, which include cuts to child care funding for families moving out of welfare, have angered many, including Jack O'Connell, the superintendent of California schools who blasted the governor this week.

"After underfunding public education by more than $21 billion over the last three budgets, it is unconscionable that the governor would take away this funding for critically needed mental health services to severely disabled students," O'Connell said. "School districts remain responsible for implementing the individualized education program plans for all students with disabilities. I question whether the governor's action to eliminate funding for this mandate is constitutional."

Monterey County parents who have made gains in battling the local bureaucracy to ensure their children's access to this type of help said they are dismayed.

"This is very worrisome at best and appears to be illegal at worst," wrote Ilene Allinger Candreva, mother of a developmentally disabled child. "It places many, many, many other families — locally and across the state — in jeopardy in more ways than I care to contemplate. I understand the need to balance the budget, but on the backs of children with mental illnesses?"

State legislators said they will vote to reverse the line-item veto, but if the Legislature doesn't act, schools and local governments will have to take on the expense if they want to continue providing services for mentally disabled students.

Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or cmelendez@montereyherald.com.