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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Appeals court upholds furloughs

Advertiser Staff

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed a ruling that shields Hawai'i's teacher furlough program from a federal legal challenge by a group of special-education students and their parents.

The state on Oct. 23 began a series of teacher furloughs that would cut a total of 34 classroom days this school year and next. So far there have been 13 furlough days out of 17 scheduled for the 2009-10 school year.

The request for an injunction against furlough Fridays was brought on behalf of seven families with special-education students at five schools.

Hawai'i Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima originally ruled in November that while special-education students might suffer "irreparable harm" because of teacher furloughs, ordering schools to reopen would cause more harm than good to the overall public interest.

In its 20-page decision yesterday, the appeals court said: "To allow the stay-put provisions to apply in this instance would be essentially to give the parents of disabled children veto power over a state's decision regarding the management of its schools.

"The (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) did not intend to strip administrative powers away from local school boards and give them to parents of individual children, and we do not read it as doing so."

Lawyers for the plaintiffs had argued that the furloughs violated Individual Education Plans for disabled students.

IEPs are federally mandated agreements between parents of special-needs students and the state. The contracts are drawn up on an individual basis for about 17,000 students and typically specify the number of hours a student should receive of therapeutic services like speech therapy, skills training, occupational therapy or counseling.