Washington families say law hurts students with disabilities

SEATTLE (AP) — Three families in three Washington state have asked a judge to overturn emergency education rules they say have hindered special-education students.

The families say in a complaint that under a new law, the burden of delivering education to special-education students now falls to parents. The request targets new state rules that have relaxed the number of instructional hours schools must provide to students.

The families filed the petition Tuesday for judicial review in Thurston County Superior Court.

The law calls for at least 1,000 instructional hours and 180 school days each year. But the state Board of Education and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction tempered the rules and redefined what an instructional hour was as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, The Seattle Times reported.

The policy disproportionately affects students with disabilities, who need more school support than is currently provided, the lawsuit claims.

Kathy George, an attorney representing the families, said the state eased its policy on instructional hours “with no public process, no comments.” She added that though the complaint is targeted toward students with disabilities, it is designed to help all students.

OSPI spokesperson Katy Payne said the office received the petition Tuesday and is reviewing it.

When children diagnosed as needing special education services lose their services, they are at risk of regressing, said Christine Beckwith, one of the parents involved in the lawsuit.

Beckwith said her 10-year-old son is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and several other behavioral disorders. He was enrolled in a seven-student class staffed by a teacher, two paraeducators and a part-time social worker before the coronavirus pandemic forced the class to go exclusively online.

In the aftermath, Beckwith had to teach him at home using only worksheets and a few Zoom meetings a week, she said. She said her son experienced three episodes of extreme emotional behavior that almost necessitated taking him to the hospital.

Other parents involved with the lawsuit described how the loss of special-education services affected them. Carolina Landa said in a statement that she faces major economic hardships if she is forced to quit her job so she can deliver educational services for her child.

“The state has a duty to spend whatever it takes to maintain a basic education for all students during the pandemic, and cannot hide behind an administrative rulemaking process with no public involvement to diminish basic education rights,” said Adrienne Stuart, another parent involved in the complaint, in a statement.