Lawsuit challenges NYC schools, EMS practices

Photo of the back of an ambulance with gurney
ERs handling school discipline

A group of parents, represented by Legal Services NYC, filed a lawsuit in federal district court last week, protesting the NYC Department of Education’s practice of sending students to emergency rooms for disciplinary problems that advocates say should be resolved in school settings.

The lawsuit requests that schools cease sending children to emergency rooms unless there is an immediate medical need. Advocates say that these practices create unnecessary medical costs and stress for parents, as well as provide a way for schools to divert their legal obligations to provide appropriate services for children with disabilities.

“In some ways the schools are treating the hospital emergency rooms as timeout rooms,” Nelson Mar, an attorney with Legal Services NYC-Bronx, told the Wall Street Journal.

In 2011-12 school years, NYC schools made 15,130 calls to ambulances. More than 22 percent of these calls were related to disciplinary infractions. Since 2005, NYC schools have regularly made around 3,000 calls to EMS services for these types of issues.

This data was obtained through the state’s Freedom of Information Law, after Legal Services NYC sued the Department of Education and Fire Department of New York City for the data in June 2012.

The most recent lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Columbia, includes claims under the federal, state and city law.

Specifically, the advocates argue the school’s practice of sending children to emergency rooms, despite the objections of their parents, violates the parents, rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to make decisions regarding their children’s medical care.

In addition, the lawsuit calls for the DOE to provide more training for dealing with emotional outbursts and requests a jury trial for the parents to seek damages, although it doesn’t specify how much the parents are seeking.

The NYC City Council held a public hearing on the DOE’s practices with EMS services in May 2012. The practice has also been criticized by the NYC Public Advocate’s Office, under the direction of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.

The writer for this story, Andy Jones, worked as a legal intern for Legal Services NYC during the summer of 2012.