VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – A $50 million class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Volusia County School Board. Online court records show the lawsuit was filed Wednesday with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.
The lawsuit comes more than two months after the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement agreement with Volusia County Public Schools.
In the investigation, the federal government concluded the school district has failed to comply with federal disability laws.
DOJ investigators claim the district abused Florida’s “Baker Act” law, removed autistic children from classrooms unnecessarily and failed to properly train staff to handle “disability-related behaviors.”
Kimberly Powell, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, claims she has struggled to receive proper care and education for her autistic son for nearly 12 years. On Wednesday, she said her son was 8-years-old the first time he was put in the back of a police car after the school called law enforcement.
“They have tried to Baker Act hundreds or threatened him hundreds and hundreds of times,” Powell said.
Powell said it has been difficult to maintain steady employment, due to being called to her son’s school frequently.
She said her son has only exhibited behaviors associated with autism at school and nothing that would warrant teachers calling law enforcement to intervene. The federal government said in their investigation, Volusia school employees called law enforcement to schools to handle issues with disabled children, unnecessarily.
Powell adds that she has been threatened by law enforcement and educators that she could face disciplinary action as well.
“That if I did not put him on more medication and they had to return to that school one more time for him, I would be arrested,” Powell said.
The DOJ investigation began after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida was contacted with several complaints, mostly involving autistic students.
In the agreement with the government, Volusia County has agreed to implement changes listed as incompliant in their investigation.
Powell and her attorney, Jason Harr with The Harr Law Firm said they are seeking $50 million for all of the families of disabled children who have been treated unfairly in Volusia County Public Schools.
“We want every child to have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams in this life, whether it’s to become a surgeon, the President of the United States, to run a major corporation or even become a lawyer,” Harr said.
Harr said a federal judge will next decide if the class-action lawsuit will move forward.