Honolulu (HawaiiNewsNow) - A visiting federal judge ruled Monday schools will continue to close on furlough Fridays, at least for the foreseeable future.
Ninth U.S. Circuit Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima denied a request for an injunction that would have re-opened schools.
Lawyers for parents who want their kids back in the classroom argued it violates federal law for the state to unilaterally alter learning plans for special education students. They argued all kids suffer when they are denied time in the classroom, but the school closures are especially tough on special needs children.
"This is a tragedy for them. I mean the regression in this short time of missing three Fridays ... these are kids that are uniquely tied to their schedule ... and when there's disruption to their program, in their placement ... we're seeing things like regression into violence. They are acting out. They are refusing to socialize ... even within their own families," said Susan Dorsey, attorney for parents of 9 special needs students.
"Another concern that we have is, if the state budget worsens, what is going to prevent the state from coming back and cutting more days. Ultimately, based on what we heard today I didn't hear anything the judge said that would make the state hesitate to cut even more dates if the state believe it were necessary," said parents' attorney Carl Varady after Monday's court proceedings.
The state argued furlough Friday's do not discriminate against special education students because the school closures apply to all students. The state also told judge Tashima that even if he ordered schools to open, the state would not have the power to tell teachers to report to work because the teachers have a signed contract that guarantees furlough days.
Tashima said there is "no easy choice here." But he sided with the state saying he does not see the likelihood the plaintiffs will succeed if and when the dispute goes to trial.
"The Department of Education does not take pleasure in furloughs, but the Department of Education acted legally in response to what judge Tashima found is this horrendous budget crisis," said state Attorney General mark Bennett.
Varady says he will probably appeal Tashima's ruling.
While the parents failed to get the injunction they wanted, they still have two separate lawsuits pending against the state that could re-open schools. There is no timetable on when those suits may go to trial.
Lawyers for the parents are working with the state toward an out of court settlement that could preempt the lawsuits going to trial.
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