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Class Action Complaint Filed in West Virginia Alleging Systemic Disability Discrimination in Kanawha County Schools

Charleston, WV – The Arc of West Virginia is joining parents of a child with autism in filing a class action complaint in federal court in Charleston alleging widespread failures by Kanawha County Schools (KCS) to educate children with disabilities, including autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health issues, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Specifically, the complaint, filed Friday, asserts that KCS—the public school district serving the Charleston metro area—has failed to provide behavioral supports to students with disabilities and is instead punishing them by sending them home instead of educating them. Attorneys for The Arc of West Virginia and the parents—Disability Rights of West Virginia, Mountain State Justice, The Arc, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and the global law firm Latham & Watkins LLP—allege that KCS has violated federal laws protecting students with disabilities.

“The Arc has long fought for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be educated in their neighborhood schools, with appropriate supports,” said Liz Ford, Executive Director of The Arc of West Virginia. “KCS’ systemic failure to provide such supports to students with disability-related behaviors has led to punishment, segregation from classmates without disabilities, and loss of valuable instruction time. This is unacceptable to The Arc and our constituents in West Virginia.”

“Students with disabilities and behavioral support needs can thrive in school, graduate with diplomas, and transition to successful adulthood provided they receive the appropriate supports to which they are entitled under federal law. It is critical that KCS take responsibility for teaching all of its students, not just some,” said Jeremiah Underhill, Legal Director of Disability Rights of West Virginia.

Data from the West Virginia Department of Education shows that over 1,000 children with disabilities enrolled in KCS were removed from their classrooms during the 2018-2019 school year after their schools suspended them. This number does not include all of the additional students with disability-related behaviors whose schools asked their parents to take children out of the school before the end of the school day, or to keep them at home, without formally suspending them. It also does not include students with disabilities who were expelled from school for their behavior; those who were separated unnecessarily from mainstream classrooms and moved to segregated classrooms where they interact only with other students with disabilities and receive an inferior education; or those who were placed on “homebound” status where they may receive only a few hours of tutoring each week. These students are not receiving critical behavioral supports that can help them be successful in the general education classroom with their classmates without disabilities.

“It is heartbreaking to see KCS undermine the great potential of students with disabilities by failing to provide necessary supports and, ultimately, removing them from the classroom, causing them to fall farther and farther behind academically and socially,” said Lewis Bossing, Senior Staff Attorney with the Bazelon Center. “And the problem is only getting worse: in the 2018-2019 school year, KCS removed nearly 250 more students with disabilities from the classroom than in the prior academic year, despite overall KCS enrollment decreasing during that same period.”

Specifically, the complaint alleges that KCS is: 1) violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by failing to provide children with disabilities with the special education they need to receive a “free appropriate public education” in the least restrictive environment; and 2) violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and the West Virginia Human Rights Act by failing to educate children with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, and denying them equal educational opportunity.

“We are seeing KCS discipline students with disabilities for ‘infractions’ as minor as touching another student with a plastic fork or refusing to get off the playground slide at the end of recess. Students are receiving behavior supports that take the form of rote “code of conduct” checklists rather than the individualized supports that the IDEA requires to adequately support children to succeed in school,” said Lydia Milnes, an attorney with Mountain State Justice.

In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court held unanimously in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 that the “IDEA demands more.” Specifically, the Court provided a new and more demanding standard for what schools must do to adequately educate students with disabilities, requiring that school districts provide “an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” and provide students with disabilities the opportunity to meet “challenging objectives” with “appropriately ambitious” special education. For virtually all children, this means receiving instruction and services in the general education classroom, with appropriate supports, alongside students without disabilities. In addition, in 1999, in Olmstead v. L.C., the Court held that the ADA prohibits the needless isolation or segregation of people with disabilities. The ADA applies to public schools, which cannot unnecessarily segregate students with disabilities, nor deny them equal opportunities.

“KCS’ systemic failures to support students with disabilities in the least restrictive, most integrated setting, and overuse of punitive disciplinary measures for behavior that is disability-related, cannot be justified in light of recent and longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” said Michael Faris, Latham & Watkins partner. “By failing to adhere to the IDEA and ADA, KCS is diminishing our clients’ ability to secure the education to which they are entitled by law. We look forward to ensuring that the law is upheld.”

About The Arc

The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families. In partnership with its network of 650 chapters across the country, including The Arc of West Virginia, The Arc works to promote and protect the rights of people with I/DD to live, work, and learn in the community free from discrimination. To learn more, visit www.thearc.org and www.thearcofwv.org

About Disability Rights of West Virginia

Disability Rights of West Virginia (DRWV) is the federally mandated protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities in West Virginia. DRWV protects and advocates for the human and legal rights of persons with disabilities. To learn more, visit https://www.drofwv.org/.

About Mountain State Justice

Mountain State Justice is a non-profit legal services firm dedicated to redressing entrenched and emerging systemic social, political, and economic imbalances of power for underserved West Virginians, through legal advocacy and community empowerment offered regardless of ability to pay. To learn more, visit https://mountainstatejustice.org/.

About The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is a national legal advocacy organization protecting and advancing the rights of people with mental disabilities. The Center promotes laws and policies that enable adults and children with mental disabilities to live independently in their own homes, schools, and communities, and to enjoy the same opportunities that everyone else does. To learn more, visit www.bazelon.org.

About Latham & Watkins LLP

Latham & Watkins LLP is global law firm with more than 2,700 lawyers located in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. For more information, please visit its website at www.lw.com.

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Threats to Medicaid and Social Security Resurface; The Arc Poised to Defend Critical Programs

Washington, D.C. – As reports circulate of further attacks on Medicaid and Social Security — programs that are vital to the quality of life for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families — The Arc is preparing for battle to stop these threats in their tracks.  Federal agencies have proposed regulatory changes to cut the Medicaid and Social Security programs, and just this week President Trump made comments to CNBC highlighting plans to cut these programs “toward the end of the year.”

Medicaid and Social Security could be on the chopping block. Yet these programs are essential for the health, well-being, and community inclusion of millions of people with I/DD and their families. Medicaid is the nation’s primary health insurance program for people with disabilities, and funds vital supports to keep them in their communities. Social Security insures individuals and family members for when a worker retires, dies, or acquires a qualifying disability. Many people with disabilities depend solely on their Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and related health coverage for their basic survival. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) assists workers with qualifying disabilities, their children, and spouses. All of these programs are important to people with I/DD and their families.

“Cutting Medicaid and Social Security would be devastating for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, and we will fight with everything we have to protect these critical programs. There are millions of people with disabilities, their parents, siblings, family members and friends who all agree — we can’t turn back the clock on 70 years of progress we have made in including people with I/DD as valued members of our community and supporting them to realize their full potential. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities should have the opportunity to live fair, full, and promising lives, and have access to the services, supports, and income support to do so,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

Stack of binders filled with papers

The Arc Fights Rule That Would Unfairly Strip Disability Benefits

Washington, D.C. – The Arc urges The Social Security Administration (SSA) to withdraw its proposed rule that would force people with disabilities and their families to repeatedly prove their disability – putting the critical benefits of thousands of people in jeopardy. The rule would increase how often adults and children with disabilities have to gather and submit mounds of tedious paperwork and other documentation to show the federal government that their disability has not suddenly gone away.

Continuing Disability Reviews can be extremely complicated. People with disabilities, their families, their teachers, and service providers often spend weeks gathering information and making sure forms are filled out correctly. Even a minor error on the form can put not only Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits at risk, but also Medicaid services and other benefits.

“It is unfair for the federal government to burden people with disabilities and their families with the unnecessary and overwhelming task of constantly proving their disability. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities typically require services and supports throughout their lifetimes and will not cease needing services. The Social Security Administration’s new rule would also further open the door to costly applicant and administrative errors, leading to the loss of benefits despite eligibility and the devastating domino effect for people with disabilities and their families. We need the government to consider the looming damage and withdraw this rule immediately,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc is also asking the disability community and supporters to oppose the new rule by submitting as many public comments as possible to the federal government before next week’s deadline of Friday, January 31. We want supporters to submit comments here explaining why the rule is harmful and how Social Security and SSI help people with disabilities. The government must read and respond to public comments before it makes the rule final.

The proposed rule would:

  • Require people with disabilities to fill out cumbersome paperwork 2.6 million more times over the next ten years
  • Cut $2.8 billion in Social Security and SSI benefits
  • Put the benefits of thousands of people with disabilities at risk
silhouette of a hand casting a paper ballot into a box

The Arc Announces Voter Accessibility Project for Iowa Caucuses

Washington, D.C. – In advance of the Iowa caucuses, The Arc is announcing its new CaucusAbility project to help ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the battleground state have the opportunity to participate in our democracy in accessible, fair, and valuable ways.

The Arc will host pre-caucus trainings where Iowans with I/DD can learn how to caucus, practice the process, and also team up with a partner with disabilities or without disabilities to encourage caucus participation and to attend caucuses together.

People with disabilities face voter accessibility challenges and barriers to the caucus process, from crowded gymnasiums to limited seating. The caucuses are also unique in format – attendees may go in with a preference for a candidate, but throughout the event they will listen to other caucus goers make pitches for their preferred candidate. Quickly analyzing and processing the information and making an informed decision in that environment can be daunting. Furthermore, Iowa’s new and untested satellite caucus system for remote participation may be an additional barrier for people with I/DD.

WHO: The Arc

WHAT:  CaucusAbility

WHEN/WHERE:

Wednesday, January 15 Collegiate United Methodist Church Annex, Ames 1 p.m., 5:30 p.m.

Friday, January 17 Sioux City Public Museum, Sioux City 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m.  

Monday, January 20 Iowa City Public Library, Iowa City 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m.

WHY: Voter Accessibility

“The Arc is dedicated to a fully inclusive society for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and that includes the right to civic engagement. Having the support of a partner at the Iowa caucuses and the opportunity to practice in advance will help people in the disability community exercise their right to vote. We know that in 2012, one in five voters with disabilities experienced a barrier at the polls. We believe CaucusAbility helps address some of the unique accessibility challenges Iowans with disabilities experience at the caucuses, despite equal access protections under civil rights law,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

A woman in a motorized chair plays with a small dog on a grassy field in front of houses

Community Living Program Extension Passes: 2020 Year to Advocate for Deinstitutionalization

Washington, D.C. – This week, instead of finalizing a deal that would provide certainty and stability to a program that moves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) out of institutions and into the community of their choice, Congress reauthorized the program for only five months.

The Money Follows the Person program, or MFP, provides funds to states to continue their work on deinstitutionalization, by paying for programs not normally covered by Medicaid, such as housing and employment services. MFP has moved more than 91,000 people with disabilities and aging adults out of institutional settings and back into the community, where they belong. The program has also shown better quality of life outcomes and Medicaid savings averaging 20% per beneficiary per month.

Just a few weeks ago, a bipartisan deal was on the table to permanently extend the program. But in the final negotiations, the length of the support of the program was changed to five months.

“While this is a disappointing turn of events, we have our marching orders for 2020 – advocate, advocate, advocate for a permanent commitment to Money Follows the Person. There is widespread, bipartisan support for this successful program. If we are going to achieve the goal of bringing people out of the dark shadows of institutions to live meaningful, independent lives in the communities of their choice among their family members and peers, with appropriate supports and services, then Congress has to step up. We are ready to help make that happen in 2020,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

Couple hugging outside both with eyes closed

Paid Leave for Federal Workers Approved by Congress – But Falls Short for Disability Community

Washington, D.C. – This week, Congress approved 12 weeks paid parental leave for federal workers caring for newborns, newly adopted children, and foster children, but the benefit falls short. Federal employees with disabilities and their family members need paid time off for their own medical needs and for caregiving for reasons beyond welcoming a new child and we are disappointed that the country’s largest employer now has a paid leave policy that does not include these crucial components.

“We are somewhat encouraged to see Congress take a small step in the right direction, but this paid parental leave policy is not enough. We need comprehensive paid leave for everyone that works for everyone, including people with disabilities and their families. We will continue to advocate for the needs of the disability community in paid leave – Congress can and should do more,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

In the U.S. workforce, only 1 in 6 workers has access to paid family leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Roughly 2 in 5 workers report they lack access to any paid leave. People with disabilities and their families often experience greater financial insecurity and are more likely to face barriers to employment that can render the financial impact of unpaid time off particularly devastating.

Comprehensive paid leave increases opportunities to take time off for a serious medical condition or to care for someone with a serious medical condition without seeing a sharp drop in income or putting one’s job or employer-based health insurance at risk. In addition, it can increase access to preventive care, such as going to doctor’s appointments, and lead to better overall health and well-being. Access to paid family and medical leave can help workers balance their personal care needs while working and providing support to a family member.

“Our expectation is that the federal government set the tone for other employers to enact paid leave policies that work for everyone. We will keeping fighting on this issue so that workers with disabilities and families that include people with disabilities one day have the comprehensive leave they need to contribute in the workforce and take care of their families,” said Berns.

The Arc has cultivated several national partnerships to bring the issue of paid family and medical leave further into the public spotlight and advocate on the federal level. Learn more about our work.

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

A man lays in a hospital bed as an out of focus doctor in the foreground holds a chart

The Arc Deeply Troubled by Affordable Care Act Ruling

Washington, D.C. – The Arc is deeply troubled by Wednesday’s Federal Appeals Court ruling in Texas v. United States jeopardizing the health care of millions of people with disabilities. In a disappointing decision, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional. In sending the case back to the lower court that previously declared the entire ACA unconstitutional, the opinion leaves uncertain how much of the ACA will ultimately be struck down, putting the law and all of its vital protections at risk in the future.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who rely on the ACA could lose access to affordable and necessary health care, as well as important protections for people with disabilities and other pre-existing conditions.

The hard-fought expansion of Medicaid under the ACA is also at risk. More than 17 million people who gained coverage as a result of the expansion now face the cruel reality of possibly losing it including many people with disabilities. The relentless advocacy of The Arc and allies in the Medicaid fight of 2017 to preserve the ACA could be undone, causing irreparable harm to people with disabilities and their families, who face frustrating challenges accessing affordable and quality health care. Also, the decision itself points out that other important Medicaid programs that have moved people with disabilities back to their communities, such as the Community First Choice Option, hang in the balance.

“This decision is a threat to people with disabilities and their families. The Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions are the most important non-discrimination protections in health care. The ACA has been critical to improving health care access for people with disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “While this decision won’t have an immediate impact, the potentially harmful consequences are widely understood – even the Fifth Circuit decision notes that the impact to people with disabilities must be a consideration. We fully support plans by several state attorneys general to challenge the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. People should know that the ACA remains the law of the land for now and any insurance coverage remains intact. The Arc has fought for accessible health care for people with I/DD every step of the way and we will continue to do so.”

In April, The Arc and several other organizations representing people with disabilities filed an amicus brief to urge the Fifth Circuit to reverse a lower court ruling finding the ACA unconstitutional. The brief outlined how the ACA has been essential to overcoming the disproportionate impact that America’s health care crisis has had on people with disabilities, and how it is uniquely difficult for people with disabilities to obtain affordable and adequate health insurance coverage despite depending on health care services more than those without disabilities.

Black and white photograph of a hallway with open doors

The Arc Disgusted by Allegations of Human Subject Experiments, Abuse, and Inadequate Care in Iowa State Institutions for People With Disabilities

Washington, D.C. – The Arc is disgusted by monstrous allegations against two institutions for people with intellectual disabilities operated by the state of Iowa. The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly investigating whether the state violated the civil rights of residents at the Glenwood Resource Center by subjecting them to sexual arousal studies and other “harmful and uncontrolled human subject experiments.” According to reports, the Justice Department is also looking into allegations of inadequate care, needless restraint, and physical injury at Glenwood, in addition to possible violations of the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act at Glenwood and the Woodward Resource Center.

“We are sickened and outraged. The allegations include degrading and dehumanizing practices, medical invasions in violation of the bodily integrity and dignity of people with disabilities, and reportedly, an increase in deaths.

“This type of alleged treatment is reminiscent of a dark history of coerced medical experimentation and abuse – it’s repugnant and unacceptable. The disability community refuses to go back to those days,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “We will be watching this investigation closely. Regardless of the outcome, The Arc and our allies continue our adamant calls to shut down every institution in the nation as soon possible.”

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

brittany-simuangco

The Arc Applauds Federal Action to Support Parents With Disabilities

Washington, D.C. – The Arc applauds the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for taking action to protect the rights of parents with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) under federal civil rights law. Parents with I/DD must not be subject to discrimination or be denied the opportunity to raise their children in their home based solely on a measure like IQ score.

After completing a compliance review, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at Health and Human Services announced an agreement with the Oregon Department of Human Services Child Welfare Program (ODHS) requiring ODHS to ensure they meet their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and update its policies and procedures to prevent future discrimination against parents with disabilities in Oregon’s child welfare system. The agreement stems from a case in which ODHS removed two infant children from their mother and father and denied the parents appropriate supports to allow them to reunite with their children, largely because of the parents’ intellectual disabilities and IQ scores. We are encouraged that ODHS has agreed to this important work, including necessary policy changes and training opportunities.

“The Arc is a strong proponent of the rights of parents with intellectual and developmental disabilities to raise children. Research shows that the presence of I/DD does not itself preclude effective parenting. Parents with I/DD should have access to support as needed to perform parental roles just as they are supported in other valued social roles and activities. We are glad to see federal regulators reject stereotypical and discriminatory beliefs about the abilities of parents with I/DD to care for their children, particularly when considering the history of discrimination, including involuntary sterilization,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “The Arc calls on state governments, as well as family support and early intervention programs to make sure that intensive and ongoing supports for parents with I/DD are available, so that parents like Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler in Oregon can raise their children whenever possible.”

close up of medical form with stethoscope

Open Enrollment and Disability: What You Need to Know

Disability Open Enrollment Week of Action kicks off Sunday, November 17, 2019 — but you can enroll until December 15!

The Arc believes that everyone, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, should have timely access to high quality, comprehensive, accessible, affordable, appropriate health care that meets their individual needs, maximizes health, well-being and function, and increases independence and community participation.

If you are uninsured or looking for more affordable health insurance, visit healthcare.gov or your state’s Marketplace or health insurance exchange. During the open enrollment period from November 1, 2019 – December 15, 2019, you can review private health insurance options and purchase coverage. People with low and moderate incomes may be able to get financial help to pay for premiums and other cost-sharing may be available for individuals and families, depending on the plan.

If you have a disability or health condition, here are key questions to ask:

  • Is there a broad range of health care providers included in the plan’s network?
  • Are there enough medical specialists in the network to meet your needs?
  • Are needed medications included in the plan’s list of covered drugs?
  • Is there adequate access to non-clinical, disability-specific services and supports?
  • Does the plan have service limits, such as caps on the number of office visits for therapy services?
  • Are mental health services covered to the same extent as other “physical” health needs?

How to get help:

Purchasing health insurance can be complicated. If you or your family member needs assistance, healthcare.gov can help. Each state has health insurance “Navigators” to assist with enrollment. Individual health plan information should be available on the website.

If you already have health insurance through the Marketplace, open enrollment is a good time to see if your coverage still meets your needs. It is also important to update income and household information to make sure you are receiving available assistance and to help avoid penalties, if your income has increased.

You can also sign up for insurance outside of open enrollment, if you lose your job, marry, divorce, or have a baby.