By Mayra S. Ventura
A federal lawsuit against Pasadena Unified School District and its superintendent Brian McDonald has been filed on Feb. 11 for violating the American with Disabilities Act, along with state disability rights laws by discriminating against students with mental disabilities.
Six current and former Focus Point Academy students along with Candis Bowles, the manager attorney at Disability Rights California and Bazelon Center, Mental Health Advocacy Services (MHAS) of Los Angeles and the global law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP brought on the lawsuit against the Pasadena Unified School District.
“These students can be educated successfully in Pasadena’s neighborhood schools with reasonable modifications of school programs and effective school-based behavior services,” James Preis, the executive director of MHAS said.
Focus Point was a school considered and designed as a “therapeutic setting,” but students complained of unfair treatment against them.
Focus Point serves first through 12th grade students who exhibit behavioral-related disabilities.
“PUSD has reported that, during the 2014-15 school years, over 80 students with a behavior-related disability were enrolled at Focus Point Academy,” according to the class action complaint.
The goal of Focus Point is to provide students with behavioral skills necessary to successfully transition to their neighborhood school within 18 months to two years.
Students were isolated and denied opportunities to develop their appropriate social skills, delaying any improvement possible to transition.
Most students who transfer to Focus Point never transfer back to their neighborhood school.
The academic structure is based on one-size-fits-all lesson plans.
Students are mixed together in a middle school class from sixth to eighth grade and ninth to 12th grade high school class.
Aside from the academic structure of classes, Focus Point requires students to attend a treatment program at Pacific Clinic from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Students are not only being segregated,but they receive an inferior education and are excluded from participating in extracurricular activities.
“Students do not have opportunities to participate in PUSD-sponsored colleges, military and job informational and recruitment activities available to students in the neighborhood high schools” as specified in the class-action complaint.
All plaintiffs are minors and use pseudonyms in the complaint.
PUSD has done little to ensure the well-being of its students.
No plan has been implemented in Focus Point Academy or neighborhood schools to respond to students’ behavior.
Students who are placed in neighborhood schools are not given the treatment they need and as a result, are sent back to Focus Point.
Plaintiff Sam Doe, 14, has attended Focus Point since fifth grade in 2011.
He is now in the ninth grade and diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and has made no academic progress over the last four years.
Doe, as many of the plaintiffs, was sent to “the boring room,” a place where students are placed in isolation as a punishment.