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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted at 11:59 a.m., Thursday, April 8, 2004

Felix case oversight may end next year

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

U.S. District Judge David Ezra this morning approved an agreement that 15 months from now could bring the end of federal court oversight of how the state provides public education services to mentally and emotionally disabled students.

Ezra has spent the past 11 years badgering the state Department of Education to comply for the most part with a federal law requiring a "free and appropriate public education" for all children, regardless of their disabilities.

The mother of disabled student Jennifer Felix filed a 1993 lawsuit in federal court claiming the state was failing to comply with the federal law. The Felix case subsequently grew into a "class action" lawsuit on behalf of all learning-disabled children in Hawai'i.

The state departments of education and health have made sweeping changes for the better, most notably during the past five years, lawyers for the disabled students and for the state agencies said today.

Ezra agreed, saying the state is now in "substantial compliance" of what the federal law requires.

"The law does not allow me to to maintain jurisdiction until the state gets it perfect — I wish it did, but it does not," Ezra said.

He said an initial draft of the plan to end court oversight called for it to cease when the current session of the state Legislature adjourns.

But Ezra said he wants the oversight to continue through the end of the next Legislature, which is scheduled to adjourn in May next year.

"I want to make sure that no one in the state administration or the Legislature understands or believes that they could step away from their responsibility (to special needs students) due to the state's financial situation," Ezra said.

Reach David Waite at dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.