Class action status sought in school abuse complaint

The Disability Rights Legal Center filed a motion July 11 to expand a lawsuit in federal court, first filed in October, accusing a California school district of systematically excluding students with intellectual disabilities from its services by failing to protect their safety.

“District students with autism or intellectual disabilities have been injured at school to such a degree that six (Pomona United School District) parents are willing to support this Motion with their declarations,” the motion reads, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. “These injuries are not ‘typical’ injuries a child might sustain in school…’

“Ultimately, in response to repeated parental reports of significant injuries, PUSD failed to take any action at a systematic level to improve training, policies, or practices to prevent future injuries from occurring.”

Before enrolling at San Antonio Elementary School in 2011, the Individualized Education Plan for J.V., as he is identified in court papers, described him as “very sweet” and that his autism did not impede his learning. During the next three years, he regularly came home with black eyes, broken teeth and “visible marks, bruises and scratches.”

In response, J.V.’s aggressive behaviors became increasingly more aggressive and school officials physically restrained him on a regular basis. The PUSD provided almost no documentation of these incidents, nor any plan to rectify the situation, despite numerous requests from J.V.’s parents and IEP meetings.

The original complaint [PDF] lists J.V. and one other student as plaintiffs. The expanded complaint lists six families, providing the DRLC with more leverage over the school district.

“It allows us to receive the more systemic relief that we really want to see,” Elizabeth Eubanks, regional director of the DRLC, told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. “With two plaintiffs, we can ask for those things, but the school district’s position will be ‘With two plaintiffs, this is an isolated thing.’ ”

“It’ll also make it easier for more families to come forward, as they won’t have to file their own lawsuits.  If there’s other families with children with developmental disabilities who’ve been injured, they can sign on as class members.”

The lawsuit alleges violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as analogous provisions under state law. Furthermore, the lawsuit asserts claims for battery, assault, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotion distress, negligent supervision and negligence.