Parents of special needs students sue the state over emergency rules

Three Washington families who have students with disabilities are suing the state over the emergency education rules put in place because of COVID-19.  

The parents say the rules stop their children from getting a basic education, and they’re asking a judge to overturn the emergency education rules that relaxed the number of educational hours schools must provide students this year. 

Adrienne Stuart is the mother of 6-year-old Jack, an elementary school student in the Tacoma School District. 

Jack has Rett syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disorder that affects brain development. 

The families in the lawsuit say trying to get a special needs child to engage in online learning while parents are working full-time isn’t realistic. 

**As we all try to figure out getting back to school in the middle of a pandemic, we invite you to join our Facebook group Q13 News: Your Education Destination to interact with our team of journalist parents and other families in your community.**

Both Adrienne and her husband work full time jobs. She says so many families with special needs students can’t afford private therapists and paraeducators. 

“Families with kids with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by poverty to begin with because so many times one parent, if they have a two-parent household, has to drop out of the work force,” said Stuart. 

The petition was filed earlier this month in Thurston County Superior Court against the Washington State Board of Education and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

Neither agency is commenting about the pending litigation. 

The parents say they would like parents to have input in the state’s decision-making process. 

Parents say the current COVID-19 education rules put them in a difficult situation. 

“It would be very difficult, so much so that I can’t imagine what that looks like. I can’t sustain that,” said Carolina Landa, another parent represented in the petition. 

Landa’s 13-year-old son is a middle school student in the Olympia School District. She says she noticed a big difference in her son’s psychological well-being after in-person learning began last semester. 

Kathy George is the attorney representing the families involved in the lawsuit. She says safety is still a concern for parents. 

“These parents are not asking to put anyone in an unsafe position. The parents recognize the need to take all appropriate health and safety measures. They also recognize that in-person learning isn’t going to be desired or necessary for everyone but for some students it’s the only way to access an education," said George. 

With the start of the school year just around the corner, George says they plan to expedite the petition in hopes of getting answers for these families before the semester gets too far along.