Parents of disabled students are suing Oregon’s largest school district over its controversial plan to move a program for children with special needs. The filing in federal district court aims to stop Portland Public Schools from moving the Pioneer Special School.
Portland Public Schools plans to remove Pioneer from its current specially equipped Holladay-Youngson campus in Southeast Portland and send students north to as many as three separate school buildings: Applegate, Columbia and Rice. The ACCESS Academy, a program for talented and gifted students would move in, in large part because it is losing its home due to a broader district shuffle of North and Northeast Portland schools.
Pioneer parents Lisa and Chris Jensen, Danielle Pacifico-Cogan, and Stephanie and Nicholas Dazer filed the suit on behalf of their children, referred to in the filing as a 13-year-old called “D.J.,” a 10-year-old referred to as “L.C.” and an 11-year-old called “M.D.” All three qualify as individuals with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the legal complaint.
The federal lawsuit argues the planned move violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by moving children into facilities that are “inferior and inadequate.”
“Their plan that they’re doing is dangerous to the children,” Jensen said. “They are telling us that they need to move us to the new facilities and then find out whether or not they’re following the law.”
Pioneer staff and parents have opposed the planned split of the program since it was announced last fall. School board members have publicly stayed out of the controversy. They point out program moves are within the authority of Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, who joined the district just last October.
The lengthy filing makes a legal case out of many practical arguments parents have been making for months — ranging from the special bathroom facilities, to private offices for therapeutic counseling, to dedicated sensory spaces.
Portland Public Schools has published a Q&A to address parents’ concerns about the move. The district has also brought in an expert in special education facilities, Rick Robinson, to advise on the planned move.
But Pioneer parents say the district has refused to have meaningful discussions about relocation, and the proposed improvements they’ve learned about fall short of what students are getting in their current building.
PPS spokesman Dave Northfield said the district hasn’t received the court filing and declined to comment.