ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – Some parents of Rochester City School District special education students are starting to see changes they’ve been waiting for. On Tuesday, the Empire Justice Center filed a class-action lawsuit against RCSD on behalf of some parents.
Melanie Funchess is a former board member of the city school district. She said RCSD has struggled to meet the needs of students with disabilities for years. The Empire Justice Center and the district recently entered into a new agreement. The lawsuit filed by the EJC on behalf of parents will make the agreement legally binding.
“The suit that was filed is really a result of that collaborative work between EJC and the school district to say that the school district sees that these are the challenges and these are the steps we are going to take to make it better,” said Funchess.
The two groups, along with parents, came up with a list of recommendations. Some of these include Individualized Education Program meetings happening on time, creating a more stable environment for students with disabilities, and integrating students with disabilities into general education classrooms. The district and the parents have been working together for more than a year to get these changes made.
“What the hope is, is that at the end of the three years all the benchmarks will be made on all of the recommendations and then they will be able to disengage and if not they will go back and be extended,” said Funchess.
Funchess has children with disabilities herself and said it’s too late for her kids.
“It gives me great hope and excitement and encouragement to know that children coming behind my child will get the things they need in the right dose, at the right time, for the right duration of time, so that they can see that they can be excellent. This process was done differently than the district has historically done things because it was done transparently, it was done collaboratively, and it worked.”
The EJC and RCSD said this in a joint statement:
As previously outlined in their settlement agreement, the lawsuit seeks to correct a wide range of special education issues in the District.
The lawsuit is part of the process that the District and Empire Justice Center, on behalf of its clients, have been working through for over a year in an effort to effect systemic changes in special education. The parties will soon submit a comprehensive proposal for a settlement they have reached to the court for consideration and review of whether the settlement is reasonable and fair to the plaintiffs and the class they represent.
The parties’ agreement anticipates that by the end of a three-year period of court -supervision, the District will achieve the progress necessary to conclude the continued involvement of the courts.
The parties do not intend to comment further about this matter until after their stipulation of settlement has been considered by the court, following which they anticipate making a joint public presentation at a meeting of the Rochester City School District Board of Education regarding the history of their litigation, the development of their stipulation and their efforts to ensure that the District’s special education program going forward will meet the needs of all of its students.
News 8 also reached out to the state education department, who said they don’t comment on pending lawsuits.