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Morgan Hill
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April 12, 2021

Special ed court case causing stir among parents

A landmark victory in one statewide, nonprofit parent organization’s fight against an alleged “ongoing systemic noncompliance of mandated special education law” by at least 75 percent of California school districts has raised some eyebrows.
U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller’s ruling to allow the release of California students’ information and records dating back to January 2008 to attorneys of the nonprofit California Concerned Parents Association for analysis has arrived with some concern from parents.
However, two leaders of the group—one being a parent of a former Morgan Hill Unified School District student and longtime advocate for students with disabilities—want to assure parents that the student information will be viewed by only a select few attorneys and in a numerical derivative coding-type form on a computer. It is also being facilitated by a special master information data expert and a magistrate judge who will access the databases based on a requested query made by the plaintiff attorneys.
“There’s a misconception that we’re getting paper copies of students’ records and that’s not true,” said CCPA Vice President Christine English, who also blamed the state education department for failing to negotiate any other non-identifiable method to view the student data.
English said they will receive the data April 1 in a series of numbers such as “0525178276,” for example, and that can indicate district, gender, disability or age and then services, placement, behavioral plan and how many of those students have what they should need.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson reiterated his commitment to student privacy Feb. 17, calling it a top priority of his administration. “We have fought vigorously to protect students’ privacy rights and will continue that fight,” he said.
Student education information is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
In trying to quell parent concerns, which flooded social media platforms over the President’s Day Weekend, English also explained that Social Security numbers (SSN) are not required by law to be submitted when registering a child at any local school district. The only required information is proof of age, residency, parent/guardian and immunizations. If a parent did include their child’s SSN, they can have it removed from educational records, English said. In Morgan Hill, the kindergarten registration form has a space for SSN, but it also states it is optional.
CCPA plans to use the data to determine whether students were properly assessed for a particular disability by school staff and if those who were found to have a disability were given adequate services to support their educational success.
“We have been trying to get this discovery data we’re entitled to for three years,” added CCPA President Linda McNulty, a former Morgan Hill parent who founded the original Morgan Hill CCPA that transformed into the current statewide organization. “We’ve gone through so many hearings it’s unbelievable, to try to get the data in an non-identifiable manner.”
McNulty also placed the blame on the CDE for causing such an uproar in parent communities throughout the state.
“We offered to mediate with them so many times,” McNulty continued. “Had they mediated with us, had they provided any sort of non-identifiable information that was important to us, we wouldn’t be here today.”
During the course of the lawsuit, the CDE has consistently fought requests by the plaintiffs to produce documents that contain the personally identifiable information of students and has produced documents with that information removed, according to the CDE’s Feb. 17 press release. CDE staff provided plaintiffs with all the information from a California Special Education Management Information System database (CASEMIS), which includes records of special education students and those being tested for special needs, but with personally identifiable information removed, CDE staff said.
Even with the judge’s ruling, parents can still stop their child’s information from being released by filing an “Objection to Disclosure of Student Information and Records” with the U.S. District Court. That form, as well as the federal judge’s ruling, can be printed out from the CDE website, cde.ca.gov. The objection must be submitted to the court by April 1.
MHUSD posted that announcement on the district website, mhu.k12.ca.us, at the direction of the CDE, which requested all local school districts to do the same.
“I can’t stress this enough, MHUSD is not a party to this lawsuit, and we will not be releasing any information nor do we, or any school district, have any control of the release,” said Kimberly Beare, MHUSD’s communications director.
However, the litigation—titled the “Morgan Hill case” in court documents—was originally filed in 2011 with Morgan Hill CPA as the plaintiffs and then amended to CCPA in 2012. The original documents described an alleged mistreatment of an MHUSD student with autism who was tied to a chair at school. Other incidents of mistreatment were shared by parents first locally, then throughout the state, and now encompass 75 percent of local school districts.
The case targets the CDE, rather than any individual districts, for alleged violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other related laws “by failing to monitor, investigate, provide services to, and enforce the rights of children with disabilities consistent with its obligations under the law,” according to the court documents. The CDE denies the allegations, and the release of information is one action taken in the litigation.
“CDE has been in noncompliance with the federal government for well over 10 years so parents across the state of California are dealing with this issue now,” English said. “The litigation is not for any financial gain or benefit.”
English stressed that the sole purpose is to force the CDE to come into compliance by taking action that ensures local school districts apply appropriate special education services to their students as required by law.
Objection to Disclosure of Student Information and Records should be mailed to:  The Honorable Kimberly J. Mueller c/o Clerk of the Court, U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, 501 I Street, Room 4-200, Sacramento, CA 95814, Att: Document Filed Under Seal

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