BLACKMAN v. DISTRICT of COLUMBIA
Blackman. v. District of Columbia is a class action originally filed in 1997 to challenge the city public school system’s failure to comply with requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that guarantees children with disabilities the right to a free and appropriate public education.
The case was consolidated with another, Jones v. District of Columbia, and a 2006 consent decree set specific goals for the city to address the needs of hundreds of students with mental or physical disabilities who were awaiting services. The city agreed to eliminate a backlog of more than 1,000 decisions by hearing officers ordering the school system to provide services to which the students are entitled under the IDEA. However, the school system has repeatedly missed deadlines to comply with the decree.
In December 2007, an agreement resulting from the dispute-resolution process mandated by the decree commited the city to more than $6 million worth of programs. Included are additional mental health services, more nationally recognized models for helping students with disabilities in the classroom and more support for parents.
The Washington Post’s coverage of the 2007 agreement noted that special education has long been a problem for the District. Because the school system failed to provide adequate services, parents of special needs students increasingly have sought help from administrative hearing officers, who often order the system to place the students in expensive private schools. The school system spends more than $100 million annually on tuition for more than 2,000 special education students to attend private schools
In August 2009, the Bazelon Center, which represents the plaintiff class, filed a notice of its intent to return to court, charging the city with a continued failure to conduct hearings and to implement hearing officers’ decisions in a timely manner, and to comply with a number of other requirements aimed at improving the District’s ability to improve special education for children with disabilities.
In July 2011, the federal court overseeing the litigation dismissed the Blackman portion of the case, concerning the untimely issuance of decisions by District hearing officers. In December 2014, the court dismissed the Jones portion of the case, regarding the untimely implementation of hearing officer decisions and settlement agreements arising from parent complaints, and vacated the Blackman Jones consent decree.