“The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
What does it look like for a school or district to respect their students? Is it the way instruction is crafted and delivered? Is it the quality of resources made available? Is it the care and attention that is given from the teachers to the students?
Students with disabilities throughout the nation are not being respected when they are denied an education by their school districts. Instead of daily instruction rich with educational and social learning, disabled students are given shortened school days that are isolating and harmful to the student’s goals and learning.
Maxwell Hines, a student diagnosed with autism, encountered this harm by his school district in Oregon. Instead of receiving an appropriate education that met his needs and goals, his elementary school reduced his hours from a full school day to only 4 hours a day. Before reducing his hours, Maxwell’s mother, Charity Hines, was constantly called to the school to pick him up due to specific behavior issues.
When discussing how Maxwell was treated in school, Charity explained that the school was “never set up to handle someone with Maxwell’s behavior issues”. Charity elaborated that when Maxwell’s hours were cut, it felt like the school “never gave him a chance to become familiar with the way things were run in the classroom”.
Maxwell did not have access to recreational time during his shortened days, and despite only spending 4 hours at school, Charity would still receive constant calls to pick Maxwell up when he experienced breakdowns. Charity stated that “they didn’t allow me to get anything else done because I was always waiting for a phone call from them.”
After the district failed to transfer Maxwell to a school that provided therapeutic instruction for students with autism, Charity contacted Cedar Law. Cedar attorneys Alex Hagel, Mickey Moritz, and Lara Hruska began attending IEP meetings with the school district alongside Charity to demand that the district develop a full-time program to serve Maxwell and filed a due process hearing request to make the family whole for the historic failure to serve this student.
“Cedar began to advocate for him in a way that I would never have been able to do. It took so much of the negative emotions I was feeling away. It also gave me a greater sense that Maxwell would be getting the education that he deserved”.
In representing Maxwell and Charity, Cedar Law was successful in establishing an agreement that the district would provide Maxwell with 3rd party ABA support until he could enroll at a an out-of-district therapeutic school that could serve his needs.
This misuse of “home instruction” as a way to disenfranchise disabled students was not unique to Maxwell and was in fact a state-wide issue in Oregon.
So much so, that Disability Rights Oregon brought a class action, and on July 13, 2023, Oregon passed SB 819, a bill that empowers students and families and holds districts accountable who implement shortened school days. The new law requires that consent be given by parents or guardians before a student is placed in an abbreviated program. If consented to, schools must be diligent in holding regular IEP meetings to review the student’s placement. If consent is revoked, districts have five days to return the student to a full day schedule.
The new bill states that districts that have assigned students with shortened days for more than 10 days during the prior school year or upcoming school year must provide written notice to parents or guardians of their rights under the new law. More information on SB 819 can be found on Disability Rights Oregon’s page.
When speaking on the new law, Charity felt it was a fantastic move for parents. “It feels like they understand how detrimental this was to students and their education. Parents have more power over the process instead of feeling like they were being backed into a corner. It lets school districts know that the process they were using is no longer appropriate”.
Maxwell has been doing well at his new school that meets his needs. Instead of being regularly contacted to pick him up, Charity gets updates on how Maxwell is doing throughout the day, including photos of him playing outside, which he was not allowed to do at his previous school.
In addition to SB 819, which is a significant step in protecting students with disabilities in Oregon, Cedar Law continues to fight and win for students and their families like Maxwell and Charity.
Cedar Law will continue our work to bring respect back to students and their families by ensuring they are receiving their right to a free and appropriate public education in Oregon and in all the states we serve.
Published by Sierra Qualles.