Attorneys may request U.S. takeover of schools
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By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer
Attorneys in the Felix consent decree are expected to file a motion today or tomorrow asking a federal court judge to appoint a master to take over the education system and resolve the 13-day strike that has cut off services to Hawai'i's special needs children.
Attorney Eric Seitz said the strike has curtailed services to special-needs children and made it impossible for the state to meet a court order to improve services by December.
The December deadline was set by U.S. District Judge David Ezra as a result of the Felix consent decree, which he issued in 1994.
At an impromptu meeting last week, Ezra warned both state and union negotiators of the potentially devastating consequences for both parties if the strike is not settled by the end of this week and he does intervene.
"I was hoping that the judge's message would have been heard, but maybe not," said Shelby Floyd, another attorney in the Felix case, as the union and state appeared a long way from settlement yesterday.
Floyd said one option is asking the judge to reestablish services provided by independent contractors, such as therapeutic aides, that have been cut off during the strike even though those contractors are not part of the teachers union.
But the judge's action could be more far-reaching and the motion will ask for a receiver or master to take over the system.
"From my perspective, I would hope that ... the judge would simply empower somebody whom he designates and it might even be (schools chief Paul) LeMahieu to use whatever resources are necessary to reopen the schools and basically to settle with the teachers on whatever terms ... and get everybody back to work and back on course and doing what the court has ordered them to do," Seitz said.
A recent report to the court showed that, as of February, the state had failed to meet nine of 36 progress benchmarks in the Felix case. Another set of benchmarks come due in June.
The motion to appoint a master could be addressed at a hearing on Monday when Ezra will consider the cuts that both the Senate and House have made in budget requests for the Felix consent decree in the next biennium.