Students Reach Settlement with Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) for Inclusive Services and Programs for Students with Disabilities

Press Release
Photo of five happy students in front of a chalk board.

Pasadena, CA - A group of six brave Pasadena students have agreed to a settlement with the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) that will bring more inclusive programs and services to the District.

Under the settlement, PUSD will retain a national expert to evaluate PUSD’s educational programs for students with disabilities and make recommendations for improvements to better serve these students, including the six who filed the complaint.  Once the recommendations are agreed upon, PUSD will implement them over the next five years and the expert retained will monitor implementation.

This settlement resolves a class action complaint filed in February 2016.  The students’ original complaint alleged that their placement violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily segregating them from students without disabilities, and denying them educational opportunities available to other students at PUSD’s comprehensive campuses.

The students were represented by Disability Rights California, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Mental Health Advocacy Services, and Morrison & Foerster LLP, which is representing on a pro bono basis.

 

“We appreciate the courage and persistence of the six students and their guardians and families who stepped forward to bring this lawsuit.  This settlement will ensure that the District meets the needs of students with mental health and behavioral disabilities in years to come,” said Candis Bowles, senior managing attorney, Disability Rights California. 

“Students with mental health disabilities have the right to the same opportunities as other students. Virtually all students with disabilities can be educated in general education classrooms with students without disabilities, with the right supports,” said Lewis Bossing, senior staff attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. 

After the students originally filed their complaint, PUSD’s Superintendent Brian McDonald, Chief Academic Officer Elizabeth Blanco and plaintiffs’ attorneys participated in good faith negotiations to reach this settlement. “PUSD is committed to providing all students, regardless of disability, with equitable opportunities for learning in environments that meet their evolving needs,” said Superintendent Brian McDonald.” “In the last several years, our District has made significant progress in expanding our internal capacity to deliver a continuum of services for all students with Individualized Education Programs.”

Prior to the settlement agreement, PUSD made strides to expand and broaden the continuum of placement options and services for students with intensive mental health and behavioral challenges. This includes the District’s mental health policy expanding mental health services and bringing school providers in closer alignment with short-term residential therapeutic programs that serve children with disabilities. 

"It is important that the rights of children with mental health disabilities be protected and that these children be provided the services necessary to facilitate inclusion," said Jenny Farrell, executive director of Mental Health Advocacy Services.  

“This settlement represents the best possible outcome for students and their families. We look forward to working with the District in the future to ensure that Dr. Katzman’s (the National expert retained evaluating PUSD’s educational programs) recommendations become a reality,” said Tritia Murata, counsel in the case and a partner at Morrison and Foerster LLP. 

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Disability Rights California (DRC) - Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities.  The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. DRC is a member of the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN). NDRN is a nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems, the largest provider of advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States. For more information visit: www.disabilityrightsca.org/

Mental Health Advocacy Services, Inc. (MHAS) - Is a private, non-profit organization established in 1977 to provide free legal services to people with mental disabilities.  MHAS assists both children and adults, with an emphasis on obtaining government benefits and services, protecting rights, and fighting discrimination.  MHAS participates in impact litigation in an effort to improve the lives of people with mental disabilities. For more information visit: www.mhas-la.org

The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law - Is the leading national legal advocacy organization representing people with mental disabilities.  It promotes laws and policies that can enable people with psychiatric, emotional, developmental, or intellectual disabilities to exercise their life choices and access the resources they need to participate fully in their communities. For more information visit: www.bazelon.org

Morrison & Foerster LLP - Is a global firm of exceptional credentials. Our clients include some of the largest financial institutions, investment banks, Fortune 100, and technology and life sciences companies. The Financial Times has named the firm to its lists of most innovative law firms in Northern America and Asia every year that it has published its Innovative Lawyers Reports in those regions. In the past few years, Chambers USA has honored MoFo’s Privacy and Data Security, Bankruptcy, and IP teams with Firm of the Year awards, the Corporate/M&A team with a client service award, and the firm as a whole as Global USA Firm of the Year. Our lawyers are committed to achieving innovative and business-minded results for our clients, while preserving the differences that make us stronger. The firm also has a long history of commitment to the community through providing pro bono legal services, including litigating for civil rights and civil liberties, improving public education for poor children, advocating for veterans, promoting international human rights, winning asylum for the persecuted, and safeguarding the environment. For more information visit: www.mofo.com