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Appeal filed in Lakeland School lawsuit

Advocacy group feels it has standing

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published April. 2, 2007, 9:38 a.m.)

A disabled person's advocacy group will appeal a federal judge's decision to dismiss the group's lawsuit against Walworth County.

"We think the court was wrong," said Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin.

The group sued in an attempt to stop Walworth County from building a bigger school for children with disabilities, saying it would promote segregation.

Judge Rudolph T. Randa dismissed the suit March 14, saying that Disability Rights Wisconsin had no standing because it failed to show injury to any child from the county plan to build a new Lakeland School.

Spitzer-Resnick expected the U.S. Seventh District Appeals Court to receive his filing Friday.

"We think we do have standing, which is the only ruling the court made. We consulted with colleagues both within Wisconsin and from around the country and got a lot of support for filing the appeal."

Spitzer-Resnick said Disability Rights Wisconsin suffers injury because it has to expend resources representing parents who don't want their child placed in Lakeland School. The group feels it will have to represent more parents because school districts may be more likely to place children in Lakeland School after a new school is built.

The group filed on behalf of children with disabilities in Walworth County. Randa decided no child is injured because no student is ever forced to go to Lakeland School.

County Administrator David Bretl said the county expected the appeal, and the appeal will not deter the project from moving forward.

Days after the dismissal, the county public works committee approved a general contractor. Construction is scheduled to begin in mid-April, Bretl said. An official groundbreaking date has not been set.

The county board will vote on selling bonds for the $18.8 million school this summer.

"When we had made the decision earlier this month to approve a construction contract, we assumed an appeal would be made, and we factored that in," Bretl said.

The county still is taking a calculated risk by going ahead with the project. The appeals court could overturn the earlier court ruling and send the case back to district court, where a judge could say building a bigger school is against the law.

Disability Rights Wisconsin alleges a bigger, new school violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by promoting segregation of children with disabilities.

"If the county wants to make a risky financial proposition and build a school that a court might say shouldn't be built, that's the county's choice," Spitzer-Resnick said.

Bretl feels confident the school is legal.

"In the community, this is something that is valued and, I think without question, is the most popular thing that the county does," Bretl said.

Anybody can sue anybody at any time, Bretl noted.

"This lawsuit could be completely dismissed, and next week someone else could file," he added. "If you look at the analysis by the district court, it's pretty definitive how it reached its result."

 

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