Lawsuit in the works


POSTED: Sunday, October 18, 2009

Eric Seitz, the attorney who represented special education students in the 12-year Felix lawsuit against the state, is readying a new complaint against the state Department of Education because of the 17 school furlough days set to start Friday.

Seitz, in a noon news conference yesterday, said the furlough days “;will be enormously disruptive and cause irreparable harm to every child.”; He plans to go to federal court either Wednesday or Thursday to ask that the furloughs be halted.

Seitz argues that public school children with special needs have individual education plans prepared and to move away from those plans risk damaging the child's educational potential.

“;Many are at critical stages developmentally and educationally. Any setback would have a long-term impact on whether they ever reach their potential,”; Seitz said.

Attorney General Mark Bennett said that the DOE plans to go ahead with the furloughs, adding that he didn't think a request from Seitz for an injunction would be granted. “;I believe the DOE has negotiated appropriately with (the Hawaii State Teachers Association) and I don't believe there is a viable cause of action,”; he said.

School Superintendent Pat Hamamoto responded in an e-mail, saying the Department of Education is “;working diligently to prepare students, parents, employees, and the community for the upcoming furlough days.”;

There is a possibility, Seitz said, to avoid a lawsuit.

“;We are willing to compromise,”; he said. “;But we want to see the best arrangements made. If they were to change the schedule and compromise, we would be able to avoid litigation.”;

Both the DOE and the union said it would take extra money to fund a compromise.

“;Should funds become available for public education, we would be willing to re-open negotiations with the union and restore instructional time by reducing the number of furlough days,”; Hamamoto said.

Wil Okabe, HSTA executive director, said, “;If we are going to end furloughs and give our children the instructional time they require and deserve, our elected officials are going to have to begin restoring funds to the educational system.”;

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said that if there is to be a compromise, it first would have to be between the union and the DOE, with Gov. Linda Lingle's agreement.

Hanabusa said she did not think there would be enough time to reach a compromise, much less figure out a way to fund it before the first furlough day on Friday.