School District Sued Over Unjust Punishment to Academically At Risk Disabled Student

LAREDO, Texas – November 12, 2011 – A disabled sixteen year old girl has filed a federal lawsuit against the United Independent School District (UISD) and the District’s chief disciplinary officer for an unjust punishment over a minor infraction of school rules. The lawsuit claims the student received the punishment because she has been identified as academically at risk due to her special needs status.

Represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), the girl, identified as M.D., claims that she is being removed from United High School and sent to the District’s Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP) without reason. According to the lawsuit, UISD unjustly sends students at risk of low academic performance, including students with special needs, to DAEP to artificially inflate test scores, limit drop-out rates, and avoid providing students with the accommodations they need.

According to Israel Reyna, a TRLA attorney representing M.D., “A student with a greater risk of poor academic performance is treated very differently from other students at UISD. The law does not tolerate harsher discipline against at risk students just because they are members of a disfavored group.”

The UISD Student Code of Conduct and the Texas Education Code state that a school district can send a student to DAEP when the student has been involved in serious criminal activities or threatens the safety of other students. The District ordered M.D. to DAEP after she was found in possession of her own prescription medication while at school, an infraction that does not warrant her punishment. Other students who have committed similar minor infractions but are not academically at risk are given punishments such as in school suspension and loss of privileges. A football team member of a UISD high school recently charged with a far more serious drug related offense was returned to his regular classes after only eleven days.

The lawsuit argues that UISD is under pressure from state and federal agencies to produce high test scores and low drop-out rates. Because certain student populations are at risk of producing lower test scores and higher drop-out rates, UISD sends them to DAEP in an effort “to conceal the shortcomings of their educational system.” Students at risk of lower academic performance include those with special needs, such as a disability, and those who come from traumatic or underprivileged backgrounds.

“We cannot imagine any legitimate interests that would be served by discriminating against at risk children to achieve these goals,” added TRLA attorney Jennifer K. Harbury.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found online at http://bit.ly/MDvUISD.

Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free civil legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients in a 68-county service area. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income Texas residents by providing high-quality civil legal assistance and related educational services. For more information on TRLA, visit http://www.trla.org.

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