Students in Broken Arrow, Jenks denied access to special-needs scholarship

Rep. Jason NelsonThe architect of a
major special education reform law says two of the states’ highest-paid
public-school superintendents and their boards are willfully ignoring
the new law due to questionable legal advice, raising serious concerns
about the treatment of special-needs students in those districts.

“It is a serious matter anytime a government entity thumbs their nose at
the law. I think those with authority over any such agency must
understand the gravity of this offense and the potential consequences,
and any responsible legal counsel should encourage their client to
strive to comply with the law,” said state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma

The Tulsa World reported this week that Jenks and Broken Arrow Public
Schools, two of the states’ largest school districts, are refusing to
implement a new scholarship law designed to benefit students with disabilities.

The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act was
created by House Bill 3393 during the 2010 legislative session. The
scholarship program, named in honor of the deceased infant daughter of
Gov. Brad Henry and his wife, Kim, had bipartisan sponsorship in the Legislature.

Under the new law,
children with disabilities who have an individualized education program
(IEP) qualify for a scholarship to attend any private school that meets
the accreditation requirements of the State Board of Education. The law
went into effect August 27.

Nelson has been contacted by several parents of special-needs students
in the Tulsa area, and said the schools’ actions are reason for “serious
concern” about the treatment of special-needs students in those

“The fact that these schools will openly ignore state law justifies
parents’ fears and concerns about poor treatment of children with
disabilities in these districts,” Nelson said. “If these districts are
willing to brazenly flaunt the law in this case, I can only imagine how
bad it must be for the parents who are trying to get the district to
follow federal law and case law during IEP meetings.”

Jenks and Broken Arrow officials have claimed the handful of
scholarships would create a financial hardship. However, in the design
of “Lindsey’s Law,” as the measure is also known, scholarship amounts will always be less than what the district originally received from the state.

Schools defying the new state law are also represented by the Rosenstein
Fist Ringold law firm, which was involved in previous attempts to
impede operation of Oklahoma’s charter school laws. After years of
litigation in that matter, the firm and its clients lost.

The controversial firm has also been under scrutiny for its performance during the two-year process of investigative audits of the Broken Arrow public schools.

Late this summer, the firm’s lead attorney participated in stormy sessions
during the process that was originally expected to lead to release of
the audit. However, the audit was squashed by state officials and a criminal investigative audit began in September.

Nelson, commenting on the decisions to refuse implementation of the new
law, said in a release sent to CapitolBeatOK, “Every attorney I have
visited with about the legal tactics of these districts and their
lawyers are surprised they have not requested an attorney general’s
opinion or sought declaratory judgment by a court rather than stoop to
irresponsible and destructive childishness,” Nelson said. “They
evidently want to settle a political score by punishing these children
and their parents.

“Sincere people can have disagreements over this new program. But it’s
not up to individual school districts to pick and choose which laws they
will follow. In the end, we need to worry about doing what’s right for
special-needs children, and not about the whims of
quarter-million-dollar superintendents or their overpaid,
underperforming attorneys.”

NOTE: Video of state Reps. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) and Jabar
Shumate (D-Tulsa) discussing the Jenks and Broken Arrow school districts
decision to defy the new state law providing scholarships to
special-needs students online: Capitol Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.