|Nelson discussing status of resolving on-site educational services issue with|
parents, providers and advocates at the Capitol earlier this month
“This opinion is a big victory for children suffering from mental illness. The Oklahoma Constitution guarantees the right to an education for every child. State law protects children from being forced to choose between receiving treatment for mental illness and receiving an education. Oklahoma City Public Schools has willfully and systematically denied hundreds, if not thousands, of children the benefit of these laws for at least the past decade.
“Oklahoma City administrators and board members have been confronted several times over the District’s refusal to provide on-site educational services to children in a partial hospitalization program located inside the district boundaries, which is clearly required by law. I’ve personally discussed my concerns with District officials and have so far been ignored — with the former district superintendent storming out of a meeting when confronted.
"The opinion describes current state law as ‘plainly and unambiguously’ establishing residency for these children and by extension the responsibility of Oklahoma City Public Schools to educate these kids and describes as ‘nonsensical’ a key argument by the district as the basis for not doing so.
“I have asked the state Department of Education and the Attorney General to take aggressive action to immediately correct the harmful and illegal actions of Oklahoma City Public Schools and to hold accountable all administrators and board members who are responsible for or who have willfully ignored this massive, ongoing civil rights violation.
“District board member Bob Hammock misled the public in a November op ed writing, "It is a source of great pride for me that public schools accept all kids. We educate every child, from gifted pupils to children with learning, physical and often severe emotional disabilities." This is certainly not true in his district.
“District administrators and board members must be held accountable for their discrimination against these children. This district has a history of allegations of violating the civil rights of children. Unfortunately, the type of attitude and behavior that has resulted in federal civil rights investigations continues.
“I requested the opinion after Oklahoma City Public schools last June stopped providing on-site educational services to children receiving treatment at Positive Changes, a local mental health services provider.
“The district is also currently refusing to provide on-site educational services in at least two other treatment facilities located within the district’s boundaries. Former district superintendent Rob Neu bragged in a meeting that the district was providing an education to children at only one facility. Oklahoma City Public schools is not the only school district in the state that has at some point refused to serve vulnerable students in similar circumstances.
“With the clarity provided by this strong legal opinion I expect this type of hostility toward this group of kids to cease.”
(Note: Two new laws authored by Nelson and signed by Gov. Mary Fallin this legislative session are a result of his efforts to address issues he's discovered while helping these children and their families.)
Related news stories:
12/3/15 Health advocacy group files discrimination complaint with state agency against Oklahoma City school district
12/22/15 Attorney general is asked to rule on OKC school district program
12/17/15 AG Opinion Request Regarding On-Site Educational Services
5/13/16 National Alliance on Mental Illness celebrates passage of Oklahoma legislation
5/21/16 Oklahoma's attorney general says the Oklahoma City school district must provide services to kids getting mental health treatment
5/19/16 AG Opinion Regarding On-Site Educational Services for Children in Mental Health Treatment Programs