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San Fernando Sun

November 4, 2010

Mental health services restored for students

A federal judge has temporarily restored funding for a long-running mental health program for students in Los Angeles County.

About 20,000 special education pupils received mental health services under AB 3632, until the line-item was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month. The Governor's veto struck the program's entire $133 million budget.

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court, disability- rights advocates including Public Counsel and Disability Rights California, sued Schwarzenegger and various governmental agencies, alleging the state violated the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by eliminating the program.

In an interview with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, Public Counsel Attorney Laura Faer, said students were immediately impacted and their phones were ringing off the hook from worried parents.

"We had a young woman [17- years-old] who has been hospitalized over 18 times and has attempted suicide two times. She was with her mom on her way to 24-hour therapeutic placement. When they got there, they were told that she could no longer have the service anymore and they had to go home," Faer explained.

"Parents were losing their minds because these are children who have really significant needs, and who desperately need these services."

Students had been without services since Oct. 11.

"There were a number of children who were told that services were not coming. Other children who were waiting for services were told that they weren't coming. [The] L.A. County Department of Mental Health had told all of the school districts that they would no longer accept new referrals and that they would not do new assessments and we aren't going to fund or authorize new services," Faer said.

Last week, the coalition filed a request for a temporary restraining order and motion for a preliminary injunction, asking a judge to order the state Department of Education to continue providing AB 3632 services without interruption.

Before the motion could be heard, an agreement was reached whereby the Department of Education would release $76 million in federal funds for the short-term continuation of the services, Faer said.

In a written ruling, U.S. District Judge George H. Wu approved a stipulated injunction to temporarily restore the program.

Faer called Wu's decision "a temporary solution to a much more serious long-term crisis," and said that they will be working toward a "permanent fix" to ensure that AB 3632 services are not disrupted after the initial funding is exhausted.

Faer said this injunction "should put services back in place immediately until Jan. 14," or until funding runs out. "This is relief that should start services back up again immediately. These are the services that are required by federal law, for individuals under the Disabilities and Education Act, for children who have a mental health need."

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola said the governor is pleased that alternative funding has been provided.

"These cuts were not something the governor wanted to make," she said.

"They were necessary."

Faer said services under the federal Disabilities and Education Act are available for people up to the age of 22.

"If parents are still having issues with services not being provided, we would like to hear from them. This is temporary relief to insure that children are not suffering irreparable harm and they are not being harmed."

Parents can call Public Counsel at (213) 385-2877, ext. 500.