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Parents Sue to Save School for Disabled

August 23, 1986|JAY GOLDMAN | Times Staff Writer

Seven parents of students at UCLA's Fernald School for the learning disabled have filed suit charging UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young and the University of California Board of Regents with discrimination against disabled children in closing the school.

The suit, filed earlier this week in Superior Court, asks for an unspecified amount of damages and an injunction forcing the chancellor to reopen Fernald this fall.

"The main thing we want to do is keep the school open. We are not out for blood," said Jeanette Resnik, one of the parents involved in the suit.

Young announced in February that the 65-year-old school would close in June so funds could be diverted to the study of childhood disabilities. Parents, who were twice unsuccessful in attempts to persuade the regents to reverse Young's decision, argue that it will be traumatic for children with learning disabilities to change schools and difficult to find other schools of Fernald's quality.

Offered to Pay Expenses

In June, actor Paul Newman and his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, offered to pay the school's operating expenses for a year, which they estimated at $100,000, if Young would keep the school open. But Young turned down the offer.

Young declined comment on the lawsuit, as did attorney Shelley Drake, who is representing the regents and the chancellor.

"The real purpose of the suit is to keep the school open, and we are going for damages because what the chancellor has done was thoughtless and insensitive and caused damage," said Stanley Fleishman, one of the attorneys for the parents.

"The university has an obligation not to discriminate against the handicapped," he said. "That means that whatever purpose they want to put this school to, they have to have a better use for the facility than letting disabled kids live a decent life."

Resnik said the 70 to 75 students at Fernald have already been damaged by the decision to close the school. "Since February the kids were just too upset. The kids regressed, every one of them."

'Waste of Time'

Harold Freidman, another parent involved with the lawsuit, agreed. "Their last semester was a waste of time. It has been six months of trauma for the parents and children.

"Fernald is not only the best, it is unique," he said. "They tailor the program for each child. Between the teachers and the UCLA students you have, in effect, one teacher for every child."

Freidman said that, like many Fernald parents, he has not been able to find another acceptable school for his 16-year-old daughter. "If we have to, we will educate her at home," he said. "We will hire tutors. But there are many people sending their children to Fernald who are not in a strong economic condition and are desperate; they have nowhere else to go.

"What we need are more schools like Fernald, not fewer."

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