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Rochester City Schools Again Facing Criticism Amid Disability & Minority Student Concerns

It’s not the first time the Rochester City Schools have come under scrutiny, and even potential legal action, for their approach to serving minority children and those with disabilities, but the Empire Justice Center (EJC) and families involved are hoping it might be the last. According to the Democrat and Chronicle, the RCSD is facing a potential lawsuit from the EJC, specifically over their lack of a sufficient special education program.

“It’s pervasive and it affects every aspect of the education of kids with disabilities,” said EJC lawyer Bryan Hetherington. “There are some different issues, and some issues are back again.”

Hetherington is referring to a 1981 lawsuit brought by the EJC, during which Hetherington was also a lawyer in the case. Many of the same problems the city school district experienced at that time have resurfaced.

Some of the main issues include the school district’s disproportionate ratio of suspensions for kids with disabilities as well as for black students; failure to conduct timely evaluations to detect or assess psychological or physical problems early on; and failure to recognize families that require an English interpreter if it is not the primary language spoken in the home.

An estimated one in 50 U.S. school-age children are diagnosed with some form of autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Autism is just one of the behavioral disabilities on the spectrum that these children may be struggling with.

According to another article by the Democrat and Chronicle, the district reportedly found that about 691 students with disabilities need, or prefer to have, written materials in a language other than English. This year, approximately 1,600 students fell into this category. This naturally resulted in increased difficulties and challenges for both the families and school district during meetings and conferences to discuss the children in question.

“A family might go to a (special education) meeting and there was no interpreter scheduled … because the system told the (staff) that it’s an English-speaking family,” said special education director Chris Suriano. “All the bilingual (problems) were systemic. We are committed to fixing the translation issues we’ve struggled with in the district.”

It’s unclear whether or not another lawsuit will move forward. Right now, both sides appear to be working on solutions that would help to alleviate these problems by focusing on the underlying issues, as opposed to disciplinary “bandages” like suspension, which has become something of the norm.

Sound off in the comments section on what steps you think the school district should be taking.