The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a lawsuit Thursday against the state's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction on behalf of special needs students who they say have been wrongly disciplined for behavior related to their conditions.
The ACLU is asking OSPI to make sure special needs students stay in school, rather than being forced out or sent home early for bad behavior.
"We received the complaint yesterday morning and our agency lawyers are reviewing the details," Nate Olson, OSPI's communications director, said in a statement. "OSPI takes behavior and discipline very seriously, as part of our dedication to the success and well-being of all Washington students."
The ACLU's suit provided three examples of special needs students in Yakima, Pasco and another undisclosed city who were forced out of the classroom for their disabilities.
One student—a 13-year-old in Yakima—has been out of the classroom for 52 days over the last two years, the ACLU said. He's only been offered 16 hours of make-up education and usually gets sent home for his outbursts related to bipolar disorder, ADHD and other conditions.
Another student—an 8-year-old—was denied recess for taking "too long in the bathroom," the ACLU said. The boy has gastro-intestinal issues, Asperger's syndrome, and more conditions.
The other student—a 10-year-old in Pasco—is consistently sent home early by his school and informally disciplined for behavior including taking off some of his clothes, refusing to get on the bus, and bothering the secretary, the ACLU said.
"Washington's constitution guarantees every child in the state the right to a public education," said Emily Chiang, ACLU of Washington Legal Director. "For the tens of thousands of students with disabilities who are suspended, expelled, or otherwise excluded from classrooms each year due to behavior related to their disabilities, this is an empty promise. All we ask is that OSPI to do its job and ensure that students who require special education be fully included in the state's education system."
Washington's anti-discrimination law prohibits discrimination based on disabilities. But, the ACLU says special education students in the state are expelled or suspended at more than twice the rate of their peers.
Special education students make up 14 percent of students enrolled across Washington, the ACLU said. But, they account for 30 percent of suspended or expelled students.
The suit was filed in King and Thurston Superior Courts, according to a statement from the ACLU.