State declares it has met most Felix mandates
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
Seven months after a federal judge threatened to place the state education system in receivership if it failed to meet requirements on special education, an education official said yesterday that the state had met most of the court's major benchmarks for compliance.
Robert Campbell told the Board of Education Committee on Special Programs that 37 of the state's 41 school complexes 90 percent are providing special-education services as required by a 1994 court order known as the Felix consent decree. Campbell is director of program support and development with the state Department of Education.
He said the Baldwin complex on Maui is in provisional compliance, while the Lana'i, Wai'anae and the Big Island's Pahoa complexes have not met requirements.
In December, U.S. District Judge David Ezra, who is overseeing the progress of the 1994 consent decree, gave the state until March 31 to bring public schools up to federal standards. Ezra had threatened to appoint a receiver to take over the system otherwise.
Although not every complex is in compliance, Campbell said the 90 percent exceeds the 85 percent benchmark set last year.
He said the state also is close to reaching other benchmarks, such as certifying that 90 percent of special-education teachers are qualified, and providing a special-education computer data base.
If Ezra agrees with the state's numbers, Campbell said, "he should find that we are in compliance, and receivership is moot at that point."
But the attorney for one of the plaintiffs who brought the Felix case in 1993 said she and other plaintiffs' attorneys have not evaluated the state's data, and questioned the 90 percent figure.
Shelby Floyd said there were "one or two" complexes found in compliance by a court-appointed monitor, but compliance presentations attended by the plaintiffs did not show they were operating acceptably.
"We had some differences with the monitor as to a few. We still are reviewing information from some," Floyd said.
She said the monitor would file a report April 15, and the plaintiffs have until the end of the month to submit comments. A hearing before Ezra is set for June 10.
Floyd acknowledged yesterday that the state had made substantial improvement. As little as a year ago, critics felt the state would fall far short of compliance.
"The state has been absolutely serious in its attempt to reach compliance. They are definitely making an effort, and I think they understand better what kind of effort they have to make," Floyd said.