SEATAC, Wash. - Three families with children who have special needs are filing a lawsuit against the state. The families from King, Pierce, and Thurston counties said their kids were denied basic education during the COVID-19 pandemic because they couldn’t learn remotely.
The petition is against the Washington State Board of Education and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. It was filed for judicial review in Thurston County Superior Court.
The families said they blame the state agencies for failing their children with special needs during the pandemic who can’t learn remotely.
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“It was a complete lack of access to education for both my children,” Cristine Beckwith, a plaintiff and mother of two who both have special needs. “I was running a law firm and trying to support two special needs children. And to watch their deterioration with the lack of structure was heartbreaking.”
Beckwith and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit said their children have an Individualized Education Program plan, known as an IEP. It is a legal document under U.S. law for kids who have special needs to get resources and time specific to their learning needs.
“These are the hours that the children aren’t getting because most people cannot accomplish special education over Zoom,” said Beckwith.
The petition said the state agencies violated the IEPs during the pandemic by adopting, ‘emergency rules that strip away the basic education constitutionally required for every student. Petitioners seek to restore access to basic education for children whose learning needs cannot be met remotely.’
Representatives from both state agencies said their offices received the petition and legal teams are reviewing it.
Carolina Landa is a plaintiff. Her son Zachariah depends on structure when it comes to his education. She said her 13-year-old has autism and is non-verbal. When schools were closed due to the pandemic, Landa said Zachariah didn’t take the sudden change very well.
“He was hitting himself on the head, or he would bang his body up against the wall. We worked for months and months trying to figure out what we could do to try and just call him down,” said Landa.
Landa said she is encouraging more families to speak up in their fight for equal education.
“Voice and testimony has the most powerful message to carry out so more people can understand. So, I would say consistently try to use that voice so people can understand what is going on,” said Landa.
Beckwith said she is proud to advocate for her children and families like hers who have felt ignored for the last several months.
“I think it’s hope, I think it’s giving people hope and creating a community that’s very isolated when you don’t know other families who are struggling with these special needs children. It’s a totally different parenting experience,” said Beckwith.