UPDATE Jan. 4, 2020: Attorney Amy LaFont has opted not to utilize the Education Defense League of Arkansas as a fundraising agent for the Reynolds v. LRSD case described in this post. Therefore, both the introduction and conclusion of this post have been edited to remove references to EDLA.
Attorney Amy LaFont has filed a case in federal court under the First Amendment, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, on behalf of two dedicated special education teachers who advocated for students' rights at Hamilton Alternative Learning Environment (ALE.)
The Education Defense League of Arkansas (EDLA) understands that there are many educators and employees -- similar to these two teachers -- who have experienced retaliation for advocating for students in LRSD. Part of EDLA's mission is to support cases like this one.
Here is more information about the case:
James Richard Reynolds v. LRSD, Supt. Mike Poore, Frederick Fields, Cassandra Steele, and Willie Vinson: 4:18-cv-00842-BRW
James "Richard" Reynolds was a special education (SPED) teacher in LRSD from 1996-2015. He ran the Day Treatment program at Henderson Middle School for many years and then moved to Hamilton ALE. LRSD's ALE program primarily serves students who are identified as "black" and "two or more races." Reynolds' students were mostly black students with special needs.
Since SPED is governed by federal law, SPED compliance requires diligent record-keeping and specific student-to-teacher ratios. Neither LRSD district administrators nor the State of Arkansas have the authority to overrule federal SPED laws.
Nevertheless, according to this lawsuit, LRSD practiced shoddy record-keeping with its SPED students. They arrived in Reynolds' ALE classroom without due process from their home schools, without documentation of their 504 accommodations, without having been appropriately evaluated by their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) teams, and without regard for whether or not Reynolds' class was already full.
For years, Richard Reynolds reported that his ALE classes exceeded federal maximum numbers of SPED students. He spoke in meetings, wrote emails (which you can read in the lawsuit's exhibits,) communicated regularly with the Arkansas Department of Education, and carefully maintained records of every effort he made to get the problem fixed so that his (mostly black) students (with special needs) could be adequately served by their school district. The teachers' union filed a grievance on behalf of these same children. Nothing worked.
This lawsuit explains that when the state took over LRSD in 2015, Richard Reynolds hoped the Arkansas Department of Education would finally hold the long-term district administrators of LRSD accountable for their extensive failures to follow state and federal laws on behalf of the district's most marginalized students. Instead, in the five years since the state takeover, the ADE has left the same administrators in charge of SPED and ALE. According to current ALE teachers, the state has not even updated the operating systems on LRSD's antique computers -- let alone the operating standards for the program as a whole.
Ms. LaFont has filed Richard Reynolds' case under the First Amendment, because "Mr. Reynolds’s interests in speaking on issues of public concern regarding the illegalities and discriminations in the LRSD’s special education delivery outweighed the School District’s legitimate interests in avoiding workplace disruptions due to his protected speech." LaFont also asserts that Reynolds' speech "occurred in the manner, time, and places appropriate and even designated by the District for such speech."
However, the implications of this lawsuit go far beyond one teacher's protected speech.
Careful reading of Richard Reynolds' complaint and its exhibits suggests that neither LRSD administrators nor the State of Arkansas have met state or federal requirements for serving SPED students for at least 10 years. Moreover, as the complaint asserts, "By falsely representing to the state and federal governments that Plaintiff’s classroom complied with requirements for students with disabilities, over the course of over a decade, the Little Rock School District unlawfully obtained many thousands of dollars."
Those "many thousands of dollars" are our taxes being misallocated. Those children are our children. This state government is the one we put in office.
Although EDLA is no longer raising money to develop this, specific case, supporting litigation that protects teachers' First Amendment rights remains one of EDLA's primary goals.