Agreement between advocate groups, state agencies provides interim fix for students' mental health program
by Mike Hinshaw
A case we discussed late last month has been temporarily resolved. The California lawsuit filed on behalf of mental health services for special education children was addressed Nov. 2 when a "federal court in Los Angeles . . . approved a stipulated injunction which will temporarily restore educationally-related mental health services to California and Los Angeles County students who require the services to stay in school," according to a press release from the group Public Counsel. "In California, these life-saving mental health services are commonly known as 'AB 3632' services."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger killed funding for the program--reluctantly, according to a spokesperson--with a line-item veto that "struck the entire $133 million in state funds allocated for AB 3632 services."
Subsequently, various groups banded together and filled a class-action suit against a slew of state officials and agencies.
First a lawsuit, then a request for TRO and injunction
After filing the suit, "the coalition filed a request for a temporary restraining order and motion for preliminary injunction in federal court, asking the judge to order the California Department of Education 'to ensure that students with disabilities who require educationally-related mental health services continue to receive these without interruption or delay.' The motion also sought injunctive relief against the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Los Angeles County Office of Education, among others, to compel them to continue providing these critical services to students."
However, prior to the hearing for the motion an agreement was hammered out with the state's education department, which agreed to free up "$76 million of federal funds for the short-term continuation of these services, which are expected to benefit more than 20,000 students across the state. The California Department of Education also agreed to issue new directives regarding the obligations of local education agencies to provide these services, and to exercise its monitoring and enforcement authority under California law to ensure that each school district utilizes the funding to provide AB 3632 services, to which students are entitled under federal special education law."
Medi-Cal for Merced County students
According to a Nov. 3 article in the The Sacramento Bee, affected students in at least one county will be shifted out of the AB 3632 program: "Susan Coston, assistant superintendent for special education with the Merced County Office of Education, said she has met officials from the Merced County Mental Health, Alcohol and Drug Services. The short-term plan would be recommend that families transfer their children from the AB 3632 program into regular mental health services.
"However, students would need to be Medi-Cal eligible to receive regular mental health services from the county's mental health agency. Coston said officials from the county's office of education will cooperate closely with school districts and families of those students who aren't Medi-Cal eligible. 'We are going to work with parents and districts to explore all the mental health services that could be made available to the child,' she added.
"Ultimately, what officials want is for the schoolchildren to continue to get the services they need, Coston said. Over 50 children are served by the program throughout the county."
According to another Nov. 3 news article
, Laura Faer, directing attorney for Public Counsel, "called [Judge] Wu's decision 'a temporary solution to a much more serious long-term crisis,' promising to ensure that AB 3632 services are not disrupted after the initial funding is exhausted.
Governor said to be 'pleased'
"Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola said the governor is pleased that alternative funding has been provided.
" 'These cuts were not something the governor wanted to make,' she said. 'They were necessary.' "