Judge addresses objections to school disabilities settlement

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge says some "disturbing scenarios" are presented in a handful of objections to the proposed settlement of a 2010 federal lawsuit that claims public schools in New Orleans fail to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

Three objections to the settlement have been filed under seal. U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey did not detail them in his order filed Wednesday evening. He told lawyers in the case to reach out to the parents and to school officials to address possible solutions ahead of a Monday evening settlement hearing, when he could approve the document.

The proposed settlement was announced in December. It includes provisions for a system to identify children with disabilities, place them in schools and help them achieve educational goals. And it calls for the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee implementation.

The original lawsuit outlined cases in which parents of children with disabilities were unable to find schools that could accommodate their children. It included examples, such as a case in which a parent was told a child with bipolar and attention deficit disorders "was no longer welcome to return to school because of a manifestation of his disability."

In an interview last year, Patrick Dobard, the head of the state agency that oversees most New Orleans public schools, didn't address specific complaints in the suit but listed programs and policies aimed at making sure students with disabilities are served. He also noted improvements in disabled students' performance on state achievement tests since 2010.

The state took over most New Orleans public schools following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. All of the more than 60 schools taken over by the state's Recovery School District are now governed by independent charter organizations. The local school board oversees more than a dozen schools, most of which are chartered.

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