WILL Press Release | WILL Goes to Court Against State on Behalf of Special Needs Children

Special needs children do not have equal access to state’s largest school choice program

May 16, 2016 – Milwaukee, WI – Tomorrow, on behalf of six children with special needs, WILL attorneys will be arguing against attorneys for Superintendent Tony Evers and several school districts that the state’s public school open enrollment program violates federal disability law by discriminating against special needs children.  The oral argument in the U.S. Western District Court of Wisconsin is scheduled for 10:00am in federal courtroom 250 in Madison in front of Judge William Conley.

Roughly 1,000 children each year are denied access to the open enrollment program, solely because they have a disability.  WILL Vice President for Policy CJ Szafir explained, “Wisconsin’s open enrollment program is a tremendous benefit to families, giving parents the freedom to find the public school that best meets their child’s individualized needs.  Sadly school districts have been rejecting applications solely because the children are disabled.  All children – regardless of whether disability status – deserve equal access to Wisconsin’s open enrollment program.”

The defendants are Superintendent Tony Evers and the school districts of Elkhorn, Greendale, Muskego-Norway, Paris, and Shorewood.  The amended complaint can be found here. The original lawsuit was filed on November 19, 2014.

The lawsuit exposes the “two-track” system that exists for the open enrollment program.  Schools are allowed to accept children without disabilities while rejecting children with disabilities.  We allege that this violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Consider some of our clients stories:

  • In 2012, one family applied for open enrollment to send their children – identical twins – to Paris School District for Kindergarten to start their schooling. In May 2012, Paris accepted the transfer applications for both children. But, shortly after, Paris school officials determined that one child had a disability. In August, less than a month before school began, Paris retroactively rejected the open enrollment application because the child was disabled. Yet, the other twin, who does not have a disability, did not have his application rejected.
  • In 2014, one of our clients was accepted into third grade in Shorewood and attended classes throughout September.  Shorewood learned that he had a disability and expelled him in October.
  • One child has been rejected for open enrollment 12 times in the last 5 years.  Most recently, he was rejected by Muskego-Norway School District because, even though they approved 55 open enrollment seats, they stated they would not be taking any children with disabilities.

In court, WILL plans to argue that Wisconsin’s open enrollment program should be made available to all children on equal terms without regard to whether they have a disability.

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