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Federal Judge Allows Discrimination Suit against California School for the Deaf

Publication Date: 
October 09, 2006
Source: 
Stanford Law School

STANFORD, Calif.—Stanford Legal Clinic’s Youth & Education Law Project (YELP) and Bingham McCutchen LLP, have filed a lawsuit on behalf of a multi-disabled deaf child who has been denied access to services and programs at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, CA (CSDF). On Thursday, a U.S. district judge issued a ruling that will allow the case to proceed in federal court.

The suit, J.C. v. California School for the Deaf, et al., filed in the District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, alleges that J.C.’s rights have been violated by the CSDF and the California Department of Education based on illegal, discriminatory admissions practices, which exclude deaf children who have multiple, moderate to severe disabilities. In addition to being deaf, the plaintiff J.C. is autistic and cognitively impaired.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White denied CSDF’s motion to dismiss the case, and set an expedited alternative dispute resolution schedule. The CSDF is one of two publicly funded schools for deaf children in the state, which operate under the same admissions policies and are regulated by the California Department of Education.

The Youth & Education Law Project (YELP) is a teaching clinic composed of thirteen law students, led by Professor William Koski and Clinic Fellow Molly Dunn. The clinic is representing J.C. and her parents, in conjunction with pro-bono trial counsel William F. Abrams, a partner at Bingham McCutchen LLP's Silicon Valley Office.

J.C., who is now 14 years old, began attending the CSDF at the age of 20 months. Despite her parents’ wish to keep J.C. in an environment with her deaf peers, the administration removed J.C. from the special needs program at the CSDF and placed her in what they deemed to be a more appropriate educational setting: a special day class for hearing students with autism at another public school within the Fremont School District. J.C. is the only deaf student in the class and cannot communicate with her peers in her primary language, American Sign Language (ASL). J.C. was removed from CSDF after ten years of enrollment, and has been notified that she was never formerly admitted to CSDF.

"The policies of the California Schools for the Deaf are discriminatory and deny multi-disabled deaf children their legal right to special services," said William Koski, the clinic’s instructor.

The clinic believes that the CSD have discriminated against at least five other children who have been denied admission or have been removed from programs at the school because of their multiple disabilities. There are potentially countless others, since studies have shown that approximately thirty percent of all school-aged deaf children have at least one additional disability. In California, the CSD provide the only public institutes where these children can receive comprehensive educational programming among their deaf peers.

"This case is very important to protect the rights of children like J.C. who have disabilities and want an opportunity to learn and grow," said William F. Abrams, J.C.’s co-counsel. "The collaboration between Stanford Legal Clinic and Bingham on this case allows us to combine expertise and resources for the benefit of J.C."

In addition to filing this suit, the Stanford Legal Clinic Youth and Education Project is advocating against proposed changes to the admissions regulations at the California Schools for the Deaf (CSD). These regulations would make it even harder for deaf students with multiple disabilities to attend the schools. The clinic opposed this proposal through testimony at public hearings held by the California Department of Education in Sacramento, CA on September 11, 2006. The public hearing period closed on September 11, but the California Department of Education has not announced whether it will adopt the regulations.

The CSD, with campuses located in Fremont and Riverside, are a component of the state special schools. They are public facilities that are funded by California tax-payers. The purpose of the CSD is to provide appropriate and comprehensive educational services that are not available or cannot be provided by a child’s local school district. Approximately 1000 students in the state are enrolled in the CSD.

The CSD are designed specifically to offer unique environments where deaf students can increase proficiency in both American Sign Language (ASL) and English, be exposed to a variety of deaf adult role models, and have a sufficient number of peers with whom they can communicate. According to CSDF, the Fremont campus, its mission is to "provide comprehensive educational programs...in an accessible learning environment that recognizes Deaf students and adults as culturally and linguistically distinct."

The lawsuit claims that the CSD admissions policies are discriminatory and unfairly exclude children like J.C. who would otherwise be eligible to participate in CSD programming. Only four other states, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, and Florida, have similar provisions that explicitly exclude multi-disabled students from admission to their state special schools. Though there is a discrepancy in the treatment of multi-disabled deaf students across the country, states like Texas prove that a more inclusive model is possible. Texas serves multi-disabled deaf students through its state operated school for the deaf and uses explicit anti-discrimination language in its admissions policies.

About the Youth & Education Law Project

The Youth and Education Law Project was founded in 2001 by William Koski, the Eric and Nancy Wright Professor of Clinical Education at Stanford Law School. The goal of the clinic is to help ensure that low-income children have access to equal educational opportunities, while providing an exceptional training ground for new legal practitioners dedicated to education and civil rights.

The clinic offers students the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of educational rights and reform work, including direct representation of youth and families in special education and school discipline matters, community outreach and education, school reform litigation, and/or policy research and advocacy.

Stanford Law School offers a variety of clinics that litigate in a number specialized fields, including immigration, community law, cyberlaw, environment protection, and educational advocacy. The clinics provide pro bono representation and operate cohesively as a single law firm, the Stanford Legal Clinic (SLC). The SLC provides students an opportunity to apply classroom theory to real client situations and to develop a lifelong commitment to public service values.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, and write books and articles for academic audiences, as well as the popular press. Along with offering traditional law school classes, the school has embraced new subjects and new ways of teaching. The school’s home page is located at www.law.stanford.edu.

About Bingham McCutchen LPP

Bingham McCutchen LLP – www.bingham.com – is an international law firm with 950 attorneys in 11 offices. The firm represents clients in high-stakes litigation, complex financing and financial regulatory matters, government affairs, and a wide variety of sophisticated corporate and technology transactions. William F. Abrams is a partner in Bingham McCutchen's Intellectual Property Litigation and Patent Prosecution Group. He has handled a number of high-profile pro bono matters before the Supreme Court of the United States and the California Supreme Court, particularly involving the rights of children and capital punishment issues. Abrams also lectures at Stanford, teaching courses on Children and the Law and Capital Punishment.