County asks for school suit's dismissal

Advocacy group fails to identify actual injury

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published September 5, 2006, 10:08 a.m.)

Attorneys representing Walworth County fired back at Disability Rights Wisconsin, asking a federal judge to dismiss the advocacy group's lawsuit brought against the county for its plan to build a bigger school for children with disabilities.

A memorandum supporting a dismissal motion says Disability Rights Wisconsin did not identify any injured persons by the proposed building project, and therefore cannot bring a lawsuit as a class action.

"A protection and advocacy agency bringing suit on behalf of another must identify a specific constituent who is being harmed by the defendant's actions," the memo reads.

"DRW fails to identify any specific individual(s) that have suffered an injury," it adds.

DRW filed a suit July 31 in U.S. District Court alleging the building of a bigger Lakeland School violates American Disability Act standards that require schools to educate children in the most integrated and least restrictive environment possible.

The group filed the suit on behalf of all school-age children with disabilities in Walworth County.

Building a bigger school further promotes segregation of disabled students from mainstream society, said attorney Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, who represents DRW.

"If Walworth County had chosen to build a smaller school, we would not be suing. That's the bottom line," Spitzer-Resnick said earlier. "Children throughout the county have the right to be in the least restrictive environment. Walworth County is so far away from that."

He could not be reached for further comment on the county's response to his complaint.

The suit also fails to show that funding construction of a new school causes any injury DRW complains of, in this case further segregation, according to the memo.

"The lack of a casual connection is apparent by DRW's failure to allege that the county board has mandated enrollment in the new school," the memo reads.

Lakeland School is an option parents have if they have children with special educational requirements.

A team of educators and the parents or guardians determine a child's placement at Lakeland School.

"I don't believe we are" segregating children, Principal Greg Kostechka said in an earlier interview. "I think it's apparent that this school is a choice. We do some mainstreaming activities that try to get the kids involved in the community as much as possible."

So far the lawsuit has not stopped the county from moving forward with its building plans. On Aug. 8, the county board approved schematic design drawings for the 105,000-square-foot school and OK'd a plan to transfer district-wide special education to local school district responsibility.

The county received two legal opinions that the school was a legal option before going ahead with the building project. The attorneys currently representing the county were unavailable.

No future court activity was scheduled in the case.

Lakeland School building timeline

o August-October, design and development

o October-February, construction blueprints created

o February-March, construction bidding

o March-August 2008, construction

o September 2008, occupancy

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