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Lawsuit against Denver Public Schools claims special-needs students will be harmed by strike

DENVER -- As a teacher strike continues, the Denver Public School District is now facing a lawsuit on behalf of more than 10,000 disabled students who attorneys say will be harmed by the strike.

Attorney Igor Raykin filed the lawsuit. His wife is a Denver teacher and his child has special needs.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a family not being publicly identified.

It alleges the Denver Public School District is failing to serve students with disabilities and it accuses the district of not properly preparing for the strike.

"A lot of these kids have behavioral problems. They have mental health problems. They have severe learning disabilities, and without the proper specialists in the building there's no way they're going to receive the educational services they need," Raykin said.

It's a sentiment supported by many educators who were gathered at the state capital on Monday for a rally supporting teachers.

"I agree. I don't think there's a plan by the district," said Gabriela Mohr, a social worker at two Denver schools.

"We have to have a mental health background. We have to have a state license or a special service provider license. There's a process you have to go through. Not just anybody can provide mental health support for kids," she said.

However, the Denver Public School says students with disabilities are being supported during the strike. The district released this statement today responding to the allegations:

While Denver Public Schools was working today to keep 160 schools open during the first day of a teacher strike, the district received a “courtesy copy” of a lawsuit alleging that DPS is not meeting its legal obligations for students with disabilities during the teacher strike. The district has not been formally served with the lawsuit and will need additional time to review before responding in full.

The district has checked in today with all of the schools that have a center program for students with disabilities and school leaders report that they are well supported.

The lawsuit does not name any specific students being denied services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Instead, the lawsuit appears to be based on speculation that students will be denied services as a result of the strike.

When the potential for a strike became apparent, DPS immediately began planning to prioritize supports for our most vulnerable students, particularly our students with disabilities. We actively recruited substitute teachers with special education endorsements and expertise. We also committed to deploying central office employees with a wide range of special education skills and specialties to our schools in the event of a strike, including licensed special education teachers, licensed principals, behavioral technicians, school social workers, and school psychologists. As we planned for the strike, we prioritized placement of both substitute teachers and central office employees in schools serving students with the most significant needs. We also developed a robust plan to ensure the availability of qualified staff to administer medications to medically fragile students and other students in need of medical support.

We are committed to keeping our students safe and supported. We will continue to monitor our allocation of staff supports in an effort to meet the unique needs of all students for the duration of the strike.

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