Legal Center success stories.
Since its founding in 1976, The Legal Center has helped more than 75,000 people with disabilities and older people. Here are just a few stories about how we have made a difference.
Protecting the rights of an employee with HIV - go to article
Helping a young man with Asperger's Syndrome pursue his dreams - read more...
Advocating for skills training to help an employee keep his job -read more...
Defending the right to emotional support animals in your home - go to article
The Legal Center sues the State of Colorado on behalf of pre-trial detainees with mental illness - read more...
The Legal Center helps a 97-year-old woman get oxygen delivered to her doorstep. View video.
Individual with mobility impairments gains access to swimming pool – read more…
Douglas County's Choice Scholarship Program discriminates against students with disabilities - read more...
With the help of The Legal Center a determined deaf student pursues her dreams – read more…
Local Ombudsman advocates for the repair of a sidewalk in disrepair – read more…
The Legal Center believes individuals with developmental disabilities should not be living in nursing homes, and we are examining the use of institutional care for people with developmental disabilities in our state. – read more…
The Older Americans programs work together to promote and protect the rights of older adults in Colorado – read more…
The Legal Center’s successful challenge of Cherry Creek School District drives systemic change throughout the state – read more…
The Legal Center has been protecting the rights of people with disabilities for 35 years! – read more…
The Legal Center advocated for a student nurse who is deaf and needed visual/digital stethoscope in order to determine patients’ blood pressure –read more….
The Legal Center intervenes when they hear that the Grand Junction city development plan would eliminate disability parking spaces –read more…
The Legal Center secures justice for a skilled nurse - read more...
New homes for residents of the Grand Junction Regional Center –read more…
The Legal Center advocates on behalf of a woman with physical disabilities whose request for an apartment close to the elevator and parking space near the front door were not addressed –read more…
The Legal Center takes action to protect a 14-year-old boy in the criminal justice system who was being abused –read more…
The Legal Center investigates complaint of a student with disabilities being duct taped to his wheelchair – read more…
Community living situation restored – read more…
Helping a student with autism succeed in college – read more…
Keeping school children free of restraint and seclusion – read more…
The Legal Center as a friend to the court – read more…
Randy Chapman Celebrates 35 Years at The Legal Center – read more…
In Beth Will’s 51 years, she has been a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a self-advocate, a person with an intellectual disability, a friend and a trail blazer for others. In the past 30 years she has received services through the local community centered board, living and working in her beloved community with as much independence as possible. She lived in her own apartment with her long-term boyfriend for six years until she became ill.
Beth was hospitalized in June 2011, diagnosed with renal failure and severe cellulitis. With care, her health improved and her physician placed her in Grace Health Care of Glenwood Springs, a nursing facility, to continue occupational and physical therapy to regain her strength. In August of that year, her physician documented that Beth was able to receive services in a group home setting. Beth continued to work on independent living skills with restorative therapy through the fall and winter while waiting for an opening in one of the community centered board group homes. In February 2012, Mountain Valley Developmental Services had an opening and requested home and community based services (HCBS) from the Colorado Division for Developmental Disabilities. The request was denied.
Beth was broken hearted. She was adamant that she wanted to live outside of the nursing facility and back in the community she so loved. The Legal Center staff attended meetings with the local community centered board and wrote letters in support of Beth receiving the resources she needed to leave the nursing home. Our letter to the Colorado Division for Developmental Disabilities stated that Ms. Will’s situation was a clear violation of the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She met all the criteria of the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Olmstead” decision that requires states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and to ensure that they receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.
Several months later, Beth was finally awarded a resource slot by the Colorado Division of Developmental Disabilities. Nearly 14 months after moving into the nursing facility, she was finally going to be able to move back into the community. Beth’s story is one of many. Individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental illness find themselves institutionalized in nursing facilities, often alone and away from their support system. Beth had a voice and made it clear to people she wanted to be in her community. However, so many individuals don’t have a voice and no one has advocated for them until now.
The Legal Center’s research has uncovered the disturbing fact that there are more individuals with mental illness or intellectual/developmental disabilities institutionalized in Colorado nursing homes than on the main campuses of the Regional Centers, the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan, and the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, combined. The Legal Center has initiated projects to identify these nursing home residents and determine if they wish to leave and live in the community. Reviewing data obtained from state agencies, we have found a total of 2,055 residents of whom 1,742 are diagnosed with a major mental illness, 275 with developmental disabilities, and 38 with both a major mental illness and a developmental disability. Of the individuals identified, 33 percent are 65 years old or younger.
In the past year, The Legal Center’s Protection and Advocacy for People with Developmental Disabilities (PADD) program identified 51 residents ages 50 and under and began the huge task of visiting each one. That required visiting 33 nursing homes across the state and meeting with each individual on our list. In the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) program, staff began by targeting two nursing homes: Park Forrest in Westminster and Spearly Care Center in Denver. Through that process we have talked with eight individuals with developmental disabilities who clearly wish to move to a community setting (it was nine, but Beth was successful in moving) and seven individuals with mental illness who desire to live within their communities.
While Beth Will is enjoying her refound life within her beloved community, she has blazed another trail for others who are institutionalized: “I want to help all the other people that are still in the nursing homes” she says. The Legal Center is very proud to have helped Beth and we look forward to giving a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.
Helping a student with autism succeed in college
The Legal Center recently had a client with autism who requested a reasonable accommodation for early lease termination while living in a student housing complex. He was attending college in the Denver Metro area and was living in student housing so that he could be close to school and interact with his peers as much as possible. Unfortunately, our client witnessed a friend of his that he knew from high school being attacked by another student at the housing complex.
Seeing his friend from home get attacked by another student caused our client to experience severe anxiety and depression. He began having night terrors, he lost weight, and he couldn’t focus in school. All of these symptoms greatly affected his ability to succeed in school, so in August of 2011, he asked the property manager of the housing complex to let him out of his lease early so he could move to a less stressful environment and focus on school. The manager denied his request, so the student and his mom contacted The Legal Center for help.
The Legal Center contacted the housing complex’s attorney, who said he would speak with his client about our request. After several phone calls and letters to the attorney that went unanswered, we advised our client to go ahead and move out of the apartment. The client moved out by the end of October. After that, the property manager proceeded to send several collection letters to our client demanding payment for the remainder of the year-long lease, adding up to about $6,000. We sent a demand letter to the attorney explaining that our client requested a reasonable accommodation that was denied in violation of the Colorado Fair Housing Act. The attorney continued to ignore us, so we filed a charge with the Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD) in July of 2012.
Soon after that, the property manager called our client and said that they had made a mistake by continuing to pursue the rent on the lease and as of today our client and his mother, co-signer on the lease, have a zero balance with the student housing complex. Our client is no longer receiving threatening letters. In the meantime, the charge of discrimination is still under investigation by the CCRD, but thanks to our legal team in the Individual Rights Program, our client can continue to pursue his college education while living in a stress free environment. He is once again doing very well.
Keeping school children free of restraint and seclusion
The Legal Center’s Restraint and Seclusion Project has taken a major step forward with a grant from the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council. Despite our legislative success with the 2008 law to prohibit the use of prone restraint for children with developmental disabilities (C.R.S. 26- 20-108) the practice still continues in too many schools.
This summer, we began working with the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and the Developmental Disabilities Council on a Restraint and Seclusion study spanning the entire state of Colorado. CDE mandates an annual review of the use of restraints to be conducted by each school district. In addition to documenting each use of restraint or seclusion, the school district review also includes an analysis of training needs, data on staff to student ratios, and the use of positive behavior supports. With the grant from the DD Council, we are requesting this mandatory information from every school district.
Peg Brown-Clark, assistant commissioner of the Exceptional Student Services Unit at CDE, began the process by sending an email to all of the special education directors in Colorado, asking for their assistance with our project by providing The Legal Center with their reports. So far, the response has been very positive. We have received reports from more than half of the school districts in Colorado.
Over the next few months, we will begin analyzing the reports received. Our hope is to get a much clearer picture of the use of restraints and seclusions within school districts. The next step is to determine what training, if any, would help districts change their approach to create a more supportive learning environment for all children. Special education students cannot live up to their potential if their classroom is a place of fear and violence, and the inappropriate and dangerous use of restraint and seclusion as a disciplinary measure for children with disabilities negatively affects the entire student body.
Overall, we believe the project has had a terrific start. With the help of the CDE and the school districts themselves, we believe this project will go a long way to reducing and eventually eliminating the use of restraint and seclusion in Colorado’s public schools.
The Legal Center has participated as amicus curiae in three recent cases on behalf of people with disabilities. An amicus curiae, or “friend to the court,” is not a party to the case, but provides information to assist the court in deciding the case. This is a key way in which we can make an impact on public policy, while helping large numbers of people with disabilities.
In May 2011, we filed a brief in the Colorado Court of Appeals supporting the position of parents of children with disabilities in Colorado Board of Education, Douglas County School District, et al v James Larue, Taxpayers for Public Education, et al., the lawsuit regarding the Douglas County School District (DCSD) “Choice Scholarship Program.” The school district had been sued by the Colorado ACLU and others for violating the Colorado Constitution by using public funds to support private religious schools. In August of 2011, Denver District Judge Martinez issued a permanent injunction against the scholarship program. DCSD appealed Judge Martinez’s ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Choice Scholarship Program is on “hold” pending a decision by the Court of Appeals. In the meantime, attorneys on both sides have filed briefs with the court.
In July of 2011, The Legal Center filed a complaint with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) against DCSD for violating Section 504 and Title II of the ADA because the Choice Scholarship Program did not provide equal access to students with disabilities needing special education. Generally, the private schools participating in the voucher program did not serve students with disabilities, and had no experience with special education. Students with disabilities who wanted to join the “Choice” program were informed they would not be entitled to an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or the free appropriate public education they are entitled to under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, or IDEA. Children with disabilities would have to relinquish their rights under the IDEA to participate, while children without disabilities were not required to give up any of their legal rights. While the Department of Justice has accepted our complaint, and since the Choice Scholarship Program is on “hold” pending the outcome of the litigation, DOJ has not initiated an investigation.
The Legal Center has not taken a position on the broader issue of diverting public funds to private religious schools; however, we do believe the program discriminates against students with disabilities. In fact, Judge Martinez found that: “The Scholarship Program permits participating private schools to discriminate against students with disabilities.” (Findings of Fact, paragraph 49, page 13). In May 2012, The Legal Center filed a brief as Amicus Curiae in the Colorado Court of Appeals supporting Judge Martinez’s finding that the Choice Scholarship Program permits the participating private schools to discriminate against students with disabilities and that discrimination violates Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In another case, EEOC v The Picture People, The Legal Center co-signed an amicus curiae brief to the Tenth Circuit court of appeals for an en banc review of an employment case filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. (En banc refers to a session where the entire court participates in the decision rather than just a panel of judges, typically because the case is considered to be very complex or of particular importance.) This case involved a woman who was hired as a photographer at The Picture People – a photography studio specializing in photos of infants and children. The woman was deaf, but her hiring manager felt that she would be able to effectively communicate with customers using other methods. In fact, there was evidence that she performed well as both a photographer working with customers, and in the lab. Unfortunately, other managers in the company disagreed, believing that since she did not read lips and talk effectively, she was unable to perform an “essential function” of her job – verbally communicating with customers. The employee tried to plead her case to her managers, but to no avail. She felt she had no choice left but to file an employment discrimination complaint and her employment was terminated.
Believing the woman was discriminated against, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) agreed to litigate the case in the United States District Court of Colorado on behalf of the employee. However, in a surprising decision, the district court agreed with the employer. The court found that the former employee was not able to establish that she was “qualified” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, they found that she did not present evidence that she could – with or without a reasonable accommodation – perform the essential functions of her job. Accordingly, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer. The employee appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the district court’s ruling was affirmed. The Legal Center was contacted when the employee, through the EEOC, sought to have a full panel of the Tenth Circuit review the decision en banc. The Legal Center agreed, along with the National Association of the Deaf, and the Legal Aid Society’s Employment Law Center, to sign on as an amicus curiae, hoping the full court will reach a different conclusion and allow the case to proceed to trial in the district court.
The Legal Center has also joined as an amicus with the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition (CCDC) and the Arc of Colorado in filing a brief supporting the families, students, and school districts that sued the state seeking adequate funding of public education in Colorado. The case, Lobato v Colorado, is on appeal before the Colorado Supreme Court. The district court had determined that Colorado’s system of public school funding violated our state constitutional requirement that the public school system must be funded to provide a thorough and uniform system of public education to all residents of the state. The amicus brief of The Legal Center, CCDC, and the Arc addresses the inadequacy of funding for students with disabilities. Our brief argues that the Colorado Constitution requires schools to provide a “thorough and uniform” education for all students, including those with disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Colorado’s Exceptional Children’s Education Act (ECEA) support that constitutional requirement. The state’s current public school system is not designed or funded, nor are its resources allocated, to meet the state’s obligation to students with disabilities. Thus, Colorado is systematically failing to meet the educational and transitional needs of our children with disabilities. The brief provides specific examples regarding how the lack of funding has negatively affected children with disabilities.
After Randy Chapman graduated from law school at the University of Texas at Austin, he came to The Legal Center as a VISTA volunteer in August 1977.
At the time, The Legal Center had just been designated as Colorado’s Protection and Advocacy System, and recent historic changes in federal law promised new opportunities for people with disabilities. The Colorado Board of Education was debating whether to accept federal funds and implement the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. The U.S Department of Health, Education and Welfare had just issued regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibiting disability discrimination in federally funded programs. However, the new laws still needed to be implemented, the conditions in Colorado’s institutions were deplorable, and children and adults with disabilities were being denied access to services, employment and independent living.
Randy found the opportunity for social change to be exhilarating. The application of law and reason to emotionally charged conflicts in human services and school settings were rewarded with positive outcomes, legal victories and The Legal Center’s growing reputation.
During his career, Randy has represented people of all ages with all types of disabilities. Early on he represented people with mental illness in employment cases and challenged the hiring practices of the U.S. Postal Service. He represented individuals with developmental disabilities and their families in obtaining appropriate housing in the community and fighting discriminatory zoning laws. He represented former policewoman Dale Coski from 1982 to 1985 in an employment discrimination case against the City of Denver requesting that the City make reasonable accommodations to continue her employment in the Police Department after she was severely injured while on duty. The Legal Center won the case at the initial hearing but ultimately lost in the Colorado Court of Appeals. Ironically, a similar case was won in Federal District Court after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
His influence is reflected in state statute and policy. In the developmental disabilities arena, he established Human Rights Committees in legislation to review medications, behavioral programs, and insure investigation of abuse and neglect. He added the requirement that people with developmental disabilities be represented on the boards of directors of the organizations serving them. He also drafted the due process language in the developmental disabilities statute and had significant input in the development of the Colorado Department of Education’s complaint process for children in special education.
In 1980, The Legal Center and the Association for Retarded Citizens in Colorado (now the Arc) sued the Colorado Department of Education because children living in the institution for people with developmental disabilities in Wheat Ridge were not receiving an education, despite the passage of federal law in 1976 which entitled children with disabilities to a “free, appropriate public education.” The Legal Center prevailed in this lawsuit, and the impact of Randy’s work on this case laid the foundation of his advocacy in special education throughout his career. His outrage at the circumstances of these children and his pride in the outcome of the case—that for the first time, children with severe disabilities attended public school in Colorado—are highlighted in the Introduction to The Everyday Guide to Special Education Law which he wrote in 2005. He dedicated the book “to all of the graduates of the Wheat Ridge State Home and Training School.”
Randy’s work in implementing special education law in Colorado is legendary, and he is widely respected by parents and educators. In the past few years, his expertise is reaching a national audience through the distribution of Guía de la Ley de Educación Especial, the Spanish translation of the book published in 2007, and the Preventing Litigation in Special Education Workbook published in 2011—not to mention the more than 85,000 hits on his blog or the 128 articles he’s posted.
Following his 20th Anniversary at The Legal Center, he received the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award for his contribution to civil rights in our community. Through his personal representation, and by extension through The Legal Center’s staff, he has educated thousands of people, helped them get services, given them courage to fight injustice, or been the force to be reckoned with on behalf of those who couldn’t speak for themselves.
In the past few years, his attention has focused once again on the plight of individuals in institutions. When plans were announced to close the skilled nursing facility at the Grand Junction Regional Center in 2010, Randy made sure that either he or another Legal Center staff member attended every planning meeting with every parent or guardian who wanted our assistance. They visited potential residential settings around the state and helped plan moves into group homes in Grand Junction. This process was an extraordinary achievement for the individuals, for the Regional Center, Mesa Developmental Services, the Arc and The Legal Center.
The State of Colorado reported in July of 2010 that there were more than 2,000 individuals with developmental disabilities and mental illness residing in nursing homes. The revelation that more people with disabilities were institutionalized in nursing homes in Colorado than in the Regional Centers and state hospitals combined galvanized Randy to prioritize identifying them, visiting them, and creating plans to help them move if they wanted to. Initially he prioritized people with developmental disabilities under the age of 50 and then began a strategy to do the same for people with mental illness.
He reminds us that these are people who may have been forgotten—some of them living in places and conditions which they didn’t choose. He reminds us that the proud history of our organization has been anchored in moving people from institutions into the community, to making sure they are safe and can live as independently as possible. It is work that touches his very soul. It may be the most important work we will ever do, and no one else is doing it. He is very proud of it, and as passionate about it as he was when he came here 35 years ago.
At this milestone, we express our deepest thanks for his extraordinary leadership throughout these years.
The Legal Center represented Barbara, a woman with HIV, in a case against her former employer, alleging she was constructively discharged because her employer did not provide the accommodations that were agreed to when she was hired. Due to the nature of her disability and resulting health issues, Barbara and the employer had agreed that she would not be scheduled to work more than 20 hours a week. The employer, however, consistently scheduled her to work much more than the agreed upon 20 hours. This work schedule continued for several weeks until Barbara was hospitalized.
Upon returning to work after being discharged from the hospital, the employer continued to schedule Barbara for additional hours. Unable to maintain her health and the excessive work schedule, she quit her job and came to The Legal Center for help. We notified the employer that the failure to provide the agreed upon limited work schedule had forced our client to quit her job. She had thus been constructively discharged due to her disability. This is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Barbara did not wish to return to her job, so The Legal Center obtained an agreement from the employer to compensate her for the wages she lost due to the constructive discharge. She is very pleased with this result and feels she can now move forward with her life.
David is a 20-year old man with Asperger’s Syndrome who aspires to a career as a chemical engineer. He applied to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) for assistance to help him reach his goal. As DVR’s regular services were not applicable to this particular engineering career, he asked his counselor to support him in attending College Living Experience, a program that offers training, counseling and academic support in an integrated environment to college students with disabilities. His request was denied, depriving David of the right to individualized services and informed choice. The Legal Center advocated for our client to attend College Living Experience as the most appropriate path to move him forward in achieving his career goal and living independently in the community. Through negotiation with a new and more flexible DVR counselor, a plan was crafted that will support David in attending college in conjunction with College Living Experience’s integrated student program.
A young deaf man whose first language was American Sign Language, was struggling with his job in the hospitality industry. Brad enjoyed the interaction with the public at sporting events, but he was frustrated by his inability to communicate effectively. When necessary, he wrote notes for his customers, but his poor command of English made it difficult for them to understand what he was trying to say. Customers became impatient, and Brad’s coworkers were also annoyed at being expected to pick up the slack. Brad was afraid he would lose his job. When he approached the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) for assistance, he was told that his grasp of English was sufficient. As Brad comes from an English-speaking family, this may seem a reasonable assumption, but he became deaf as a toddler and throughout his school years, his teachers and family all used ASL. In effect, using written English meant learning a second language for Brad. The Legal Center represented Brad in an appeal and our client prevailed. It was agreed that he would receive objective testing to determine the level of English he needed to attain, and then tutoring to improve his English skills and support retention of his employment. However, even after the appeal was won, Brad did not receive the promised tutoring until an Informal Administrative Review reinstated his right to it. Brad continues to work for the same employer and is making progress with his English language communication skills.
Recently, Congress amended the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Most disability advocates welcomed the new amendments as they expanded the previous definition of disability, but for some, the amendments have caused confusion. One issue that The Legal Center has seen frequently in the last year is confusion regarding emotional support animals in housing. For those with any questions on the subject, here is a breakdown of the current state of the law regarding your right to an emotional support (often referred to as “companion”) animal in your home.
First, although the ADA and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) implementing regulations have limited a “service animal” to a specially trained dog (or in some instances a miniature horse), those limitations do not apply to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – the federal laws that apply to housing. While the DOJ’s rules expressly preclude emotional support animals from qualifying as service animals, the FHA and Section 504 do not exclude emotional support animals from their protections.
What does this mean? It means that people with disabilities may request a reasonable accommodation to allow an emotional support animal to live with them even if their housing has restrictions or prohibitions on pets. The issue then becomes whether the person with a disability needs the animal in order to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the housing or housing program. To make this argument, the person with a disability must make a request for a reasonable accommodation to the landlord, property manager or homeowners association (HOA) and provide the following information:
1. Indicate that you have a disability
2. Request that, as a reasonable accommodation of your disability, you are seeking to have an emotional support animal live with you
3. Describe the relationship between your disability and the assistance the animal provides
If you can show each of these three things, a housing provider or program must permit the animal to live with you unless it can demonstrate that allowing the animal would pose an undue financial or administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing or program.
A few additional notes. First, although the request for accommodation does not need to be in writing, it is always a good idea. Second, you are not required to provide any particular proof of disability. However, you may consider sending supporting documentation from a medical provider, counselor, or case manager to help expedite your request. You should not send or agree to provide access to all of your medical records. Third, there is no specific restriction on the type or number of animals that can provide emotional support, but it’s best to be reasonable. Two cats will likely be fine, whereas two dogs, three cats, a parakeet and a salamander together may not qualify as a “reasonable” accommodation. Finally, your request can be denied if the animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by a reasonable accommodation or if the animal would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by a reasonable accommodation.
The FHA is intended to be broad in scope. Therefore, generally speaking, a person with a disability who needs an emotional support animal should be able to have one. If you find that your landlord, property manager or HOA is refusing to grant you this accommodation, please contact us. We can try to help you and your animal stay together in your home – just like we did for Steve Thomas and his dog Henry. We were able to convince Mr. Thomas’ HOA that his dog was a reasonable accommodation—despite their strict “no pets” stance—and we are pleased to report that Mr. Thomas and his dog are now happy and healthy and living together in Durango.
A Weld County man was arrested on January 16, 2011. At his February 17 hearing, he was deemed incompetent to stand trial and ordered by the court to receive mental health treatment from the state hospital to allow him to participate in his case. However, he remained confined in the Weld County Jail for six months until the Colorado Mental Health Institute made a bed available for him this summer. This case is one of a growing number where presumptively innocent men and women with serious mental illnesses languish in Colorado jails for months awaiting court-ordered mental health evaluations and mental health treatment so that they can participate in their criminal proceedings.
On August 31, The Legal Center filed a federal lawsuit against the Colorado Department of Human Services and the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP) alleging that the excessive delays violate the United States Constitution. In some cases, pretrial detainees wait in jail for mental health evaluations and treatment longer than they would have otherwise been confined for their alleged offense. The lawsuit was supported by signed affidavits from Arapahoe County Sheriff J. Grayson Robinson and the Colorado State Public Defender, Douglas K. Wilson.
In his affidavit, Sheriff Robinson stated that it costs the county almost twice as much to house people with mental illness as it does other detainees, and that they place special demands on the staff to ensure their safety. Robinson notes that his jail does not have the medical professionals needed to evaluate, treat, and care for these individuals properly. As jail staff cannot provide psychiatric medications to detainees with mental illness involuntarily, their psychological condition often deteriorates rapidly and with it their behavior. Robinson states: “It is not uncommon for mentally ill detainees to commit crimes or violate facility conduct rules because of their inability to conform their behavior to the requirements of a secure detention facility.”
The Legal Center’s legal team is led by Iris Eytan, Jason Lynch, Caleb Durling, and Marcus Lock. Eytan and Lynch are partners, and Durling is an associate at the Denver litigation firm of Reilly Pozner LLP. Lock, a former associate at Reilly Pozner, is now a partner at the Gunnison law firm of Bratton Hill Wilderson & Lock LLC. Legal Center attorneys working on the case are Mark Ivandick and Randy Chapman.
Eytan and Lock prosecuted contempt actions against the state for the same problems in 2006, and ultimately negotiated a comprehensive settlement agreement, under which the State of Colorado was required to admit detainees for competency evaluations and treatment to restore to competency in under 30 days. However, the “Zuniga” Agreement, as it was known, expired when the state opened a new 200-bed psychiatric facility in 2009, which officials claimed would fix the problem. It did not, and since the expiration of the Zuniga Agreement, Eytan and Lock have watched the time detainees with mental illness are languishing in jail for admission to CMHIP steadily increase.
“The state’s actions and inactions are ongoing, pervasive, systemic violations of the 14th Amendment and cause undue suffering for some of the most disenfranchised people in Colorado,” said Eytan. Lock complains that “The people we are trying to help are caught in a procedural limbo; they need, and are constitutionally entitled, to treatment. But instead of receiving mental health care at CMHIP, they are unjustifiably confined in jail for months on end.”
“The jails are not equipped to hold pretrial detainees who suffer from mental illness,” said Lynch. “They cannot provide the treatment those detainees need, and the excessive delays in evaluating mentally ill detainees and admitting them into the state hospital can cause persons with mental illness to deteriorate, further lengthening the time it takes to restore them to competency.”
The Legal Center’s suit asks the federal court to require the State of Colorado to provide evaluation or treatment to mentally-ill detainees within seven days of a court order. We are very grateful for the support of some of the nation’s most experienced lawyers on this case: Reilly Pozner is a full-service litigation firm handling high profile cases in more than 40 states. Bratton Hill Wilderson & Lock is one of the leading law firms in Western Colorado and handles transactional, litigation, and water matters across the state. Both firms believe they have a responsibility to provide pro bono legal services to those in need and devote substantial resources to individual and major broad-based legal cases.
The Legal Center believes that the human suffering and financial toll caused by chronic delays in evaluating mentally ill criminal defendants and those found incompetent to stand trial are unconscionable and unjustifiable.
The Legal Center was contacted by a person with mobility impairments who complained about the lack of access to the outdoor pool at the Colorado Athletic Club on Monaco Parkway (“CAC”). The Legal Center immediately wrote a letter to CAC and explained that the inaccessibility of the outdoor swimming pool was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and must be remedied as quickly as possible. CAC took action and ordered a swimming pool lift so that all members, including those with mobility impairments, would have access to the outdoor swimming pool during the summer months.
On July 18, 2011, The Legal Center filed a complaint with the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, against the Douglas County School District (DCSD) for violating Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act in denying equal access to students with disabilities.
Douglas County’s “Choice Scholarship Program” has attracted a great deal of media attention from advocates for and against the use of vouchers to subsidize tuition for parents who wish to send their children to private schools. The Legal Center was not the only organization to object to the pilot program. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed suits objecting to public funds being used to fund private—especially religious—schools. On August 12, Denver District Judge Michael A. Martinez issued a permanent injunction against the district’s Choice Scholarship Program, and it is now on hold.
The Legal Center takes no position on the broader issue of diverting public funds to private schools—our concern is with a program that purports to expand educational choice, but in effect reduces or eliminates educational opportunities for children with disabilities. In addition to a growing list of potential private school partners for this experimental voucher program (the district uses the term “scholarship”), Douglas County has created a public charter school, the Choice Scholarship School, that provides only limited services to students with disabilities, does not provide special education services, and only serves students with “mild” disabilities.
In order to participate in the Choice Scholarship Program/Choice Scholarship School, parents of students with disabilities must forgo needed accommodations and support services for their children. Federal law requires public schools to accommodate the needs of all students with disabilities by providing a “free and appropriate public education.” Despite the fact that the Choice Scholarship School is a public charter school, it will treat students in special education as “parentally placed private school children” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As parentally placed private school children, these students will only have access to limited services and will not be offered individualized services through an individualized education program (IEP). Parents of students without disabilities are not asked to forgo any of their children’s rights.
Douglas County, in promoting “choice,” has discriminated against students with disabilities by offering vouchers, called “scholarships,” for private schools that provide only limited services, if any, for students with disabilities. At The Legal Center, we believe that choice is important. We also believe that all families, including those with children with disabilities, should have access to that choice.
The Choice Scholarship Program is currently on hold following Judge Martinez’ decision. The Legal Center will be monitoring the school district to ensure that any resumption of the Choice Scholarship Program includes real choice for students with disabilities.
Back in Spring 2009, we introduced you to two college students from Metropolitan State College of Denver who were pursuing degrees in special education, hoping to become teachers. These two students sought the assistance of The Legal Center when they learned that the college intended not to recommend them for teacher licensure – even if they met all the academic requirements –because the students were deaf. The college argued that being deaf meant that they could not pass the standards set for teachers by the Colorado Department of Education. Failure of the students to get this recommendation meant that they would be unable to become teachers in Colorado. The Legal Center gladly stepped in to help.
As we told you in 2009, The Legal Center attempted unsuccessfully to remedy the situation through informal negotiations, and was eventually forced to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. We also contacted the Attorney General’s Office, which represents the Colorado Department of Education. The Legal Center argued that teacher licensing standards, like all the college’s rules and policies, are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that agencies make reasonable accommodations as needed for people with disabilities, as long as the accommodations do not cause a fundamental alteration of the program or an undue financial burden. The Attorney General’s Office agreed with The Legal Center’s view and wrote to the college informing them of their need to follow the ADA.
As a result of these interventions, The Legal Center was able to ensure that the students would get the accommodations they needed to complete school, including all of the academic requirements needed to become a teacher in Colorado. We are proud to announce that Rachella Ortiz, one of the students in the case, graduated from Metropolitan State College of Denver in May 2010 and earned her teaching certificate. She will begin working as a Deaf Plus teacher (teaching students who are deaf and have additional disabilities) at the Rocky Mountain Deaf School in the fall and is also looking forward to pursing her Master’s Degree in Deaf Education. She is unstoppable! The Legal Center wishes Ms. Ortiz the best of luck in fulfilling her dreams. We hope that her story of overcoming obstacles will inspire other men and women with disabilities who are reaching for that shining star.
The local ombudsman received complaints that a sidewalk bordering the nursing home was in disrepair. Many residents of the nursing home who use a wheelchair depended on that sidewalk. The walk was also shared by many senior citizens in the neighborhood. The city was experiencing a $20 million plus budget shortfall, but when contacted by the ombudsman about the urgent need for the repair, they moved the sidewalk up in priority, but said they could not begin work for a year or more. With some gentle nudging on the ombudsman’s part, the sidewalk is now repaired, allowing residents to utilize the transit system stop and access community stores.
Since 1976, The Legal Center has advocated moving individuals with disabilities out of large congregate care institutional settings. Historically those institutional settings in Colorado’s Developmental Disability System were the three state home and training schools (now called regional centers) in Pueblo, Wheatridge and Grand Junction. In 1977, there were more than 1,500 individuals living in those institutions; today there are fewer than 100 persons living in the regional centers. However, with 260 individuals with developmental disabilities living in nursing homes, Colorado has more people with developmental disabilities institutionalized in nursing homes than in regional centers.
In August of 2010, Colorado drafted the State Olmstead Plan to align with the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, which requires that services be provided in the most integrated setting possible. The plan, which includes data on the numbers of individuals of all ages living in nursing homes throughout the state, highlights the many barriers keeping people with disabilities from living a fully integrated life.
As the Protection and Advocacy System (P&A), The Legal Center believes individuals with developmental disabilities should not be living in nursing homes, and we have created a new priority for 2011 to examine the use of institutional care for people with developmental disabilities in our state. With our authority as the P&A System, we have secured the names and locations of people with a developmental disability living in nursing homes from the Division for Developmental Disabilities. Of the 260 individuals placed in nursing homes, 51 are between the ages of 20 and 50. We will focus initially on these younger individuals. We plan to work in conjunction with the Colorado Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program to reach out to each of these individuals to identify why they have been placed in a nursing home setting, their views regarding where they are living, and their wishes regarding where they would like to live. If an individual prefers not to live in a nursing home, The Legal Center will do what we can to assist the individual in finding a new home.
This effort is based on the fundamental belief that people can and should live within their community as independently as possible.
The Colorado Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program and the Legal Assistance Developer Program have just released their combined annual report for 2010. The two programs, administered by The Legal Center under a contract with the Colorado Department of Human Services Division of Aging and Adult Services, have a shared mission to protect and promote the rights of Colorado’s older adults and to improve their quality of life.
The program directors, Colorado Long-Term Care Ombudsman Shelley Hitt and Legal Assistance Developer Mary Catherine Rabbitt, work closely with the state’s 16 regional Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) to coordinate services statewide.
Help resolve complaints about the facility or individual staff members, such as
• physical or verbal abuse
• poor quality of care
Help protect residents’ rights under the law—including the right to
• privacy in care and treatment
• voice grievances without retaliation
Help older adults
• understand their options for long-term care
• choose the long-term care facility or community living arrangement that is right for them
Legal assistance providers help older adults with a variety of legal concerns including
• foreclosure or eviction notices
• harassment by a collection agency for unpaid bills
• financial exploitation by a relative or caregiver
• unwanted guardianship action
• family members or professional care givers trying to force them into a facility against their will
• denials, reductions, or terminations of public assistance benefits
• home modifications or services to allow them to continue living independently
We were pleased to see a reduction across all categories of complaints in nursing homes and assisted living residences, and attribute the decline to the hard work and dedication of Colorado’s ombudsmen. The Colorado Long-Term Care Ombudsman program is a part of the Colorado Culture Change Coalition (CCCC) whose mission is to “transform the culture throughout the long-term care continuum by affirming the dignity and value of each individual who lives and works in these settings.” Culture change promotes flexibility and choice for residents in a welcoming, homelike atmosphere. We believe that culture change efforts by facilities, supported by state and local ombudsmen, have improved quality of care and reduced routine complaints.
Complaints about admission, discharge and eviction saw a 16 percent reduction from 2009, a tribute to the efforts of ombudsmen to educate residents, families and facility staff about the regulations that protect residents during an involuntary discharge. Sadly, many involuntary discharges result from misuse of the resident’s funds by family members or guardians with power of attorney, and here the picture for 2010 is much more worrisome. Financial exploitation of older adults, whether living in nursing homes or their own homes, has intensified in the past couple of years as the economy has worsened.
In 2010, local legal assistance providers worked together with local ombudsmen to handle numerous cases of residents being evicted from long-term care facilities for nonpayment due to the failure of their relatives to send the senior’s Social Security or other income to the facility. In most instances, we are able to find a solution, but these cases take up many hours of the legal providers’ and ombudsmen’s time and cause untold distress to the older adults. In one case an older woman was represented in a court action to recover funds improperly transferred from her bank account by her granddaughter, and in another case an older adult needed legal assistance in responding to a foreclosure due to a fraudulent transfer of the home by a relative with a Power of Attorney.
For a copy of the full annual report, please call or email The Legal Center or download it in PDF form from our website.
In September 2010, The Legal Center was contacted by a distraught mother whose child’s school placement was being changed following an episode of difficult and disruptive behavior. The mother was justifiably angry that her son’s school failed to follow the law by limiting her full participation in his “manifestation determination review.”
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides that all children with disabilities have a right to a free appropriate public education, including children who are suspended or expelled. The IDEA has specific procedures for school administrators to follow when disciplining children with disabilities. These procedures balance the need to keep schools safe with the right of children with disabilities to receive an education. There is a process to determine if a student’s misconduct is a manifestation of his or her disability, and this prevents children from being punished for “misbehavior” that is related to their disability. The manifestation determination is made by a group that includes the child’s parent and the relevant members of the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. The group meeting is not a hearing and The Legal Center believes it is intended to be collaborative and non-adversarial, with participants focused on the child’s best interests.
After studying all the facts in this case, Elizabeth Collard, an attorney/investigator in The Legal Center’s Special Education Program, was convinced that the school had acted improperly. The case was undeniably complex, as the child had exhibited serious behavior and criminal charges were pending. However, the boy had serious disabilities, and the law is clear that the manifestation review should have included his parent. The law also states that parents be allowed to select other representatives from their child’s IEP team. This was not done.
The Legal Center filed a state complaint against Cherry Creek School District with the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and we are pleased to report that in January we received a decision in our client’s favor. The state complaints officer found that the district violated the IDEA and significantly impeded the parent’s opportunity to participate in the child’s manifestation determination review.
The state complaints officer also found that the district’s discipline policies were defective as they did not use the manifestation determination language that the manifestation determination team is selected “as determined by the parent and the LEA” (local education agency), did not advise the parent orally or in writing of the district/school IEP team members who would be attending the meeting, and did not notify the parent orally or in writing of her right to invite relevant members of the child’s IEP Team.
The district and the parent disagree on whether the school provided the mother with the Colorado Department of Education’s Procedural Safeguards Notice, but even if they did, this would not have supplied her with adequate notice concerning the IEP team members from the district/school who would be attending the meeting. Since the mother did not have this information, she could not make an informed decision as to other relevant IEP Team members who should attend the meeting.
Finally, the state complaints officer Cherry Creek stressed the collaborative, non-adversarial nature of the manifestation determination process. She noted that the Cherry Creek School District’s policies, which refer to the meeting as a “hearing,” demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the law. The district is required to hold another manifestation determination review (MDR) with the right participants, review and change its policies, and train staff in the appropriate MDR process.
The Legal Center has long advocated for schools to use their limited resources to train staff in how to better address the needs of children with disabilities, instead of spending money unnecessarily on attorneys because the law is not followed. Many of the cases of difficult behavior that result in MDR, suspension or expulsion of students with disabilities could be diffused or de-escalated if staff were provided with the resources to support the children in their care.
This decision underscores the right of all children with disabilities—even those whose behavior is extremely difficult and disruptive—to a free appropriate education. The Legal Center always tries to work informally with schools and school districts to address cases before litigation becomes necessary. In this case, legal action was imperative to protect the rights of the child, and we believe the decision by the Colorado Department of Education will forge systemic change in school districts throughout the state. The decision titled State Level Complaint 2010:516 Cherry Creek School District #5 can be found on CDE’s website at www.cde.state.co.us/spedlaw.
The mission of The Legal Center is to protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities and older people in Colorado through direct legal representation, advocacy, education and legislative analysis.
In providing legal services and advocacy for people with disabilities and
older people, The Legal Center recognizes the inherent value of all people and will represent our clients’ wishes. The Legal Center embraces the values of empowerment, self-determination, independence and inclusion. These concepts have guided The Legal Center’s work for 35 years.
When a small group of parents and lawyers came together to seek equal rights for children with developmental disabilities living in an institution in 1974, they had a vision for all people with disabilities—to have access to legal assistance and advocacy expertise not generally available in the legal system. They also knew that even when laws are passed, it takes time and work to implement them.
Today, The Legal Center is recognized as a leader in the National Disability Rights Network made up of Protection and Advocacy programs from all the states and territories. These organizations have unique federal and state authority to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, to have access to records and programs serving people with disabilities, and to help individuals obtain appropriate services from state and federal programs.
The Legal Center was established as a nonprofit corporation in 1976 by founders who had the remarkable foresight to create an organization serving people with all types of disabilities, and that vision has served us well, not only because it was the right thing to do, but as the Protection and Advocacy System has expanded nationally it has enabled us to expand our services in Colorado.
In 1977 The Legal Center was designated as Colorado’s Protection and Advocacy System for individuals with developmental disabilities. In 1986, The Legal Center participated in the creation of the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness program, and in 1987 received the designation as Colorado’s Client Assistance Program for people receiving services from vocational rehabilitation.
In 1988 The Legal Center took over responsibility for two programs funded by the Older Americans Act—the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program and the Legal Assistance Developer Program.
During that same time period, The Legal Center was the first organization to provide legal assistance to people with HIV/AIDS.
In 1992 the Protection and Advocacy for Individual Rights program was funded. Additional Protection and Advocacy programs were added in 1995 for assistive technology, in 2002 for beneficiaries of Social Security and survivors of traumatic brain injury, and in 2004 to protect voting access for people with disabilities. We call it the VOTE! Program.
In 1995 we opened our Grand Junction office to have a presence on the Western Slope.
Although there have been significant changes in both public attitudes and in laws and regulations, The Legal Center still receives calls daily from people who have been notified that they or a family member are no longer eligible for services. In recent years we have witnessed a disturbing increase of incidents of seclusion and restraint of children in public schools. The recession has further taken a toll on funding for state and federal programs.
The Legal Center responds by investigating and reporting on incidents of seclusion and restraint, challenging employers who discriminate against people with disabilities, assisting individuals to get training and support so they can work, testifying before legislative committees, and addressing systemic issues in every system serving people with disabilities and older people in Colorado. In all settings we work to assure that people are safe and treated with dignity.
We develop information on relevant laws, regulations and systems and provide training in all aspects of our work. Our award-winning publications provide tools for individuals, parents and professionals to understand special education law and support aging parents in the community. We have touched the lives of many thousands of people in Colorado throughout our history. We are proud of our achievements and determined to continue making a difference for the people we serve.
We were contacted last year by a woman who was deaf and had a dream of becoming a nurse. Linda enrolled in college and after just one semester of classes, she was told she needed to complete and pass a practical exam in order to continue in the program. Linda was confident that this would not be a problem, but also knew she would need some accommodations in order to take the exam and be on equal footing with the other test-takers. In particular, she needed a visual/digital stethoscope in order to be able to determine a patient’s blood pressure. The college refused to provide one for her. She turned to the test administrators and they, too, refused to provide one and told her that she would not even be able to use one for the test. Linda was confused, frustrated and upset, so she contacted The Legal Center for help.
We immediately contacted the test administrators and determined that they were governed by the Colorado Board of Nursing, whom we also contacted. It took very little time for the board to review the issue and agree that the client would be able to use a visual/digital stethoscope for the exam. They agreed that using the device was a reasonable accommodation of her disability and as necessary to test her actual abilities. Unfortunately, the device is very expensive and the client was unable to purchase or borrow one. We turned back to the Board of Nursing and argued that they needed to provide one for the client and all future test-takers to use for the exam. The board ultimately agreed and now all future nursing students who have hearing impairments and need to use a visual/digital stethoscope for exams will have one provided to them for their use. The Protection and Advocacy for Individual Rights (PAIR) program was thrilled to reach such a good resolution not only for an individual client, but for all nursing students in Colorado!
When the City of Grand Junction began implementing its block-by-block civic improvement plan on Main Street, most residents were delighted, except for those with disabilities. The Legal Center was alarmed when the Downtown Association and the City Council planned removing the disability parking spaces in front of local businesses on the central block of Main Street.
Managing Attorney Bill Higgins joined forces with the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition and the Center for Independence in advocating for accessible parking. The groups met with the City Attorney and the engineers in charge of the improvement project. In addition to persuading the city’s decision makers of the importance of parking for people with mobility impairments—people with disabilities do go shopping—the advocates were also able to secure an additional accessible parking space on the north side of the 400 block and change the parallel parking off Fifth Street to diagonal parking so people using van lifts do not exit into the traffic.
Thanks to The Legal Center’s constant and vigilant advocacy, and to our partners in the disability community, all of Grand Junction’s residents will have access to the downtown shopping district.
The Legal Center was contacted by a nurse who is deaf and believed she was facing discrimination in her job due to her disability. After meeting with Alison, we determined that she was an experienced nurse working in labor and delivery. Although she required reasonable accommodations to perform the essential functions of her job, she had never faced discipline or had any type of on-the-job medical trouble stemming from her inability to hear. To the contrary, she received numerous notations from co-workers, doctors, and patients on her tremendous abilities as a nurse. Nevertheless, after four years of hard work, Alison was told this spring that she was being taken out of her nursing position for reasons including safety concerns and because it was becoming too expensive to accommodate her. She was given three months to find an alternative position at the hospital. Alison applied for numerous positions, but was finally told that the hospital was not considering her for any bedside nursing positions—a job she had held for her entire nursing career. She felt hopeless and dejected and came to The Legal Center for help.
We immediately contacted the hospital to get to the bottom of the situation. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that our client would not be returning to work at the hospital. The relationship was too damaged. However, in an effort to allow Alison an opportunity to pay her bills while looking for new employment, The Legal Center secured a generous settlement, including modest attorneys’ fees for The Legal Center. While it is unacceptable for anyone to experience discrimination in their employment, we were happy we could provide support for our client during this difficult time.
Since August 2009, when Governor Ritter announced that because of the state’s budget crisis, the Grand Junction Regional Center’s skilled nursing unit would close in early 2010, our office has been working closely with the state’s Division for Developmental Disabilities (DDD) to find new homes for these vulnerable residents who all have significant cognitive and physical needs—requiring attendant and nursing assistance throughout the day.
The Legal Center was initially told that the 32 individuals would move to nursing homes, which we considered as unacceptable for people with developmental disabilities, especially for this group of residents who had lived together for many years. We offered to work with the DDD to help the residents and their families transition to community settings, and we are pleased to report that despite a few glitches, the transition seems to have worked very well.
Mesa Developmental Services (MDS), the local community centered board, has been tireless in its efforts to make new homes for the former GJRC residents. MDS has created three group homes, all of which were built from scratch. In less than a year, they purchased land, built homes, hired and cross-trained staff with the Regional Center and welcomed the new residents.
Each of the three group homes, Victoria, Olson and Cattail, has eight beds, and MDS tries very hard to create a genuine family environment. All residents are expected to be involved with everyday activities, such as laundry, meal preparation and shopping to the best of their ability. One individual whose dietary restrictions require him to eat pureed food was delighted when he was invited into the kitchen to help prepare meals. He had never seen the whole ingredients before, and now one of his greatest pleasures is assisting in preparing his meals by pushing the button on the liquidizer.
Residents are also encouraged to participate in social events. To maintain the friendships created at the regional center, the three MDS homes have already established a tradition of hosting regular barbeques for each other and enjoying group outings.
Of the 32 displaced individuals, 23 moved into MDS group homes. The other residents moved to different areas of the state, some to be close to families and some found placements within other communities.
From the time of the governor’s announcement, The Legal Center committed to assisting with transition planning until all the individuals who requested our help had new homes in the community. We also committed to follow-up visits to each placement to assure the residents are being appropriately served and are safe.
Through development of these group homes, staffing was the biggest challenge for MDS as many of the residents require highly skilled, round-the-clock attention. They encountered some problems in getting up to speed, but throughout all the difficulties, MDS has been open with guardians, family members and Legal Center advocates about the learning experience. The Legal Center extends our thanks to Mesa Developmental Services staff for their continued efforts to create a warm and welcoming environment with opportunities for the residents to enjoy rewarding and productive lives with the highest level of independence possible.
The PAIR program is lucky in that it is able to provide a myriad of services to eligible clients. This variety was evident in a series of cases the PAIR program has been handling for one client. Ms. Calabash first came to The Legal Center over two years ago, with a complaint that she was not being adequately accommodated in her housing needs. An elderly woman, with physical limitations, she wanted an apartment that was close to the elevator and a parking place that was close to the front door. She requested these, but was denied and told to “wait” indefinitely.
The Legal Center first attempted to work directly with the housing provider to secure a reasonable accommodation for our client. After this failed, we represented Ms. Calabash in a housing discrimination complaint filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. Although there was initially a finding of no probable cause of discrimination, we appealed that finding to the commission and succeeded. The case was sent to be tried before an administrative law judge and this summer, on the heels of that trial, the case was settled and the client was pleased with the outcome.
The entire process of the complaint and appeal took nearly two years. During that time, Ms. Calabash moved to another location. Last winter, she attempted to organize the residents at her new location to press for improved housing services, and she made several complaints. In response, she was served an eviction notice during the middle of her lease. The PAIR program staff rushed in and on the day of the trial, they were successful in getting the eviction case dismissed.
Finally, Ms. Calabash moved to an assisted living facility in the Denver metropolitan area. The transition from independent living to assisted living was very difficult for her—as it is for many people. In an effort to help make the transition easier for the individual, as well as to bring culture change to all the residents, staff in the PAIR program again stepped in on this client’s behalf and contacted the staff at the assisted living facility. To this day, we are working on changes in programs and services for this client and for her fellow residents. We are very pleased to be able to provide such an array of services for our clients.
The Legal Center received a report that a 14-year-old boy with mental illness was being abused while in a Denver detention center. The Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) staff investigated these allegations and substantiated four incidents of peer abuse: three at the detention center and one when the youth, Gus, was assaulted at a Denver jail holding cell. Through PAIMI intervention, the detention center provided an external monitor for Gus to ensure his safety. PAIMI wrote a letter to the Attorney General requesting accommodations so that Gus could have visitation and phone contact with his mother, and attached an expert’s letter in support. The AG immediately granted these accommodations.
The court-identified team of social services, probation, and the guardian ad litem were all leaning toward recommending commitment to the Division of Youth Corrections, which PAIMI staff opposed. Against heavy resistance, PAIMI staff succeeded by communicating with the Public Defender, showing up in juvenile court, investigating alternative, more appropriate placements, and bringing in a clinical expert to explain the importance of a placement in therapeutic residential treatment, where Gus now resides.
Through PAIMI’s intervention, the director of the detention facility has agreed to the clinical expert providing staff training about youth with mental illness. The director also agreed to review the resident handbook and make recommendations for change. Further, PAIMI also connected the clinical expert with social services, resulting in training for their staff as well. PAIMI is still reviewing systemic issues that will be addressed relating to this case.
In 2007, The Legal Center embarked on a wide-ranging initiative to eliminate the inappropriate and dangerous use of restraint and seclusion as a disciplinary measure for children with disabilities in Colorado’s public schools. While we have made great strides in educating school personnel about the law, and our staff have provided training in alternatives to mechanical restraints, we continue to receive calls from parents and school staff about vulnerable children who have been physically restrained or locked away from their peers—sometimes for hours at a time.
In May of 2010, The Legal Center received a phone call alleging that a student with cerebral palsy and shaken baby syndrome had been duct taped to his wheelchair by the special education teacher. The student attended middle school in the Alamosa School District, so two attorneys from The Legal Center, Jennifer Levin and Alison Butler Daniels, traveled to Alamosa to investigate the allegation. The attorneys interviewed school district personnel, including the special education teacher, and the student’s grandparents, who are also the student’s legal guardians. According to the special education teacher, the duct tape was used to tie the student’s right arm to his wheelchair because he was gagging himself with his fingers. The teacher explained that because she was overwhelmed, she felt she had no other choice but to use this form of restraint. She also said that she inadvertently left the duct tape on the student’s arm when she placed him on the school bus that day to go home.
The Legal Center concluded that the use of duct tape was a mechanical restraint and its use violated the Colorado Department of Education’s Rules for the Administration of the Protection of Persons from Restraint Act. Based on its conclusion that an improper restraint was used, The Legal Center recommended that the Alamosa School District ensure that all staff utilizing restraints in schools are trained at least every two years. Sadly, many teachers, like the one in this case, do feel overwhelmed and have not received the support and training they need to employ positive behavior support strategies in place of restraint or seclusion. Our attorneys will monitor the Alamosa School District for the next school year to ensure that appropriate training is provided according to the terms of The Legal Center’s recommendations.