Lawsuit accuses school district of failing to accommodate students impacted by trauma

A photograph of a modern high school
Test Case for Victims of Trauma

In a first-of-its kind lawsuit, Public Counsel and Irell & Manella LLP accused the Compton Unified School District on May 18 of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against trauma-impacted students.

“To close the achievement gap, we must deal with trauma,” said Mark Rosenbaum, directing attorney for Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law project, in a news release. “Prolonged exposure to trauma results in injuries to the developing minds of children.

“It’s the type of roadblock to learning that our federal anti-discrimination laws were created to address, so that students in these circumstances are not denied equal opportunity to public education….There is no greater enemy to learning than unaddressed trauma.”

The complaint (PDF format) defines trauma broadly to include a range of circumstances, including students who are victim of physical or sexual abuse, witnessed family or neighborhood violence, suffer from family hardship, or lack basic necessities, among other circumstances.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District for the Central District of California, calls on the District to take trauma into account when punishing students or making other educational decisions. In addition, it requests that the District provide additional mental health counseling, increase staff training, emphasize restorative justice principles over punitive discipline, and take other steps to reasonably accommodate trauma-impacted students.

“Experiences in California and across the country have repeatedly shown that appropriate interventions, which teach skills proven to bolster the resilience of young people, can effectively accommodate the disabling effects of trauma,” the complaint states. “This gives students affected by trauma meaningful access to the public education they deserve,” the complaint states.

“Experts agree that to effectively provide reasonable accommodations to students whose learning is impaired by complex trauma, particularly in schools that serve high concentrations of trauma-impacted students, access to an individualized plan is insufficient. Rather, implementation of schoolwide trauma-sensitive practices that create an environment in which students are able to learn is required.”

One response to “Lawsuit accuses school district of failing to accommodate students impacted by trauma

  1. This is a really fascinating lawsuit, and I must say that I enjoy this type of creative legal advocacy that addresses social issues like these, namely the intersections of race, class poverty and mental health. Whether or not a judge will find that there is merits to this case, I think the larger issue is that mental health in general, and mental health specifically–as it relates to that of notoriously marginalized groups–should be a national concern. We can no longer ignore the debilitating effects of failure to address mental health issues in our communities. Politics aside, the science speaks for itself. Furthermore, the law requires that reasonable accommodations be extended to individuals who have disabilities, which, under law, is defined asa physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

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