WILL to DPI: Open Enrollment Process May Violate ADA, State Law

Today, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty sent a letter to Superintendent Evers of the Department of Public Instruction, raising serious concerns about whether the DPI is misapplying the open enrollment laws in a way that discriminates against students with disabilities in violation of state law as well as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

  Explained CJ Szafir, WILL Education Policy Director, “Every school year, hundreds of students with disabilities are denied the right to open enroll by their school district.  When parents appeal the decision, records and interviews with parents have shown that the DPI is not protecting the rights of those students but is instead approving the rejections without conducting the analysis that it is legally required.  The whole process leaves parents frustrated, and trapped in a school district that does not serve the needs of their child.”

The purpose of Wisconsin’s open enrollment program is to allow parents to choose a school district for their child other than the school district where they reside.  But, students with disabilities have their applications for open enrollment rejected at a much higher rate than those without a disability.  A major cause of this disparity is the resident school district claiming that they would incur an “undue financial burden” if the child leaves the school district.

After interviews with parents of students with disabilities and an analysis of the law and public records, WILL has serious concerns about how the DPI is administering the Open Enrollment Laws.  School districts are denying open enrollment applications for students with disabilities on account of some perceived “financial burden” – but the districts are not accurately calculating whether such a burden actually exists and the DPI is not correcting the resident school districts’ errors even when the misapplication is appealed.  This raises the question of whether the DPI is following the requirements of the Open Enrollment Law and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as explained in a federal court case, Doe v. Burmaster, Case No. 03-CV-892 (E.D. Wis. December 2, 2004).

Before WILL takes action on this issue, we hope that Superintendent Evers will take the time to answer a few questions, which are explained in greater detail in WILL’s letter.  The letter can be found by clicking here.

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