Four Tulsa-Area Schools To Sue Attorney General Over Special Needs Funding Law

Monday, January 24th 2011, 7:38 am
By: News On 6 & Ashli Sims, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma --  The superintendents of four Tulsa-area school districts said Monday they will sue Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt over House Bill 3393.

The new law requires districts to pay tuition scholarships for special education students whose parents choose to send them to private schools.  

Jenks, Union, Broken Arrow and Liberty voted last fall to ignore the law.  They said it was unconstitutional because it uses public dollars to pay for private school.

Last week, Attorney General Scott Pruitt threatened them with legal action if they didn't comply.

1/19/2011 Related story: Oklahoma AG To Schools: Follow Special Needs Funding Law Or Face Legal Action

Now the schools say they will follow it and accept the applications they have already received,  but say they will sue Pruitt to force Oklahoma's Supreme Court to rule on the law's constitutionality.

Read the statement from Union Superintendent Cathy Burden

Read the statement from Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall

Read the statement from Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman

Read the statement from Liberty Superintendent Donna Campo

One Union School board member called Pruitt a "bully" for threatening the four school boards who chose to defy the law.

State Representative Jason Nelson, who authored the bill, admitted last week the law needs some fine tuning to address district concerns.  He the new version of the law should allow for special needs students to transfer between districts again to try to give parents of special needs children more options.

But Jenks superintendent Dr. Kirby Lehman was critical of the legislative "fix" filed last week. He said the new bill is even "worse than 3393," adding, "it's like using decapitation to cure a headache."

Dr. Kayla Lakin, a former Broken Arrow parent, said she's very disappointed in her school district. Her daughter Hannah has attention deficit disorder and a cognitive learning disorder.

"We decided to move her because her IEP wasn't being followed. It was a constant fight," she said.

Hannah now goes to Town and Country, a private school that caters to her special needs.

Some patrons feel like the school districts are doing the right thing.

"They have a right to say that I think they have a duty to say that," Ramona Carter said.

Others say they've overstepped their bounds.

"It's not their place," Anji Ballew said. "They're not judge and juries. We have judges and juries for that."

The school boards at Union, Jenks, and Broken Arrow all unanimously voted Monday night to follow House Bill 3393 and to sue the Attorney General.

News On 6 reporter Ashli Sims asked the districts specifically why they didn't opt for this route before, instead of disobeying the law. They said their only option last fall was to sue parents, something they did not want to do.