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UCLA Special School Must Stay Open Until Suit Ends

August 29, 1986|NANCY GRAHAM | Times Staff Writer

Parents of learning-disabled children at UCLA's 65-year-old Fernald School won a limited victory Thursday when a Santa Monica Superior Court judge ordered the school to remain open until a lawsuit filed by the parents against UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young and the UC Board of Regents is settled.

Fernald, a school and research center on learning disabilities at UCLA, closed in June. Young, who ordered the closing, said he wanted the university's work in the field confined more strictly to research. The UC regents supported his decision.

Claims in Suit

The suit, filed Aug. 18 on behalf of seven of Fernald's 65 students, alleges that the closure violates the constitutional and civil rights of all of the students. It claims that Fernald is the only facility of its kind in California and that its closure deprives the children of equal educational opportunities.

Judge Richard G. Harris ordered Fernald parents to post a $650,000 bond, and he ordered the university to hold hearings to consider the effect on students of closing the school and report its findings to the court.

In response to Harris' decision, Young issued a statement saying he regarded his decision to close the school as "appropriate" and "academically sound."

"The decision was based on the school's lack of contributions to UCLA's teaching and research programs and on our desire to develop a new research and graduate training center to study childhood disabilities and learning disorders."

Available Elsewhere

When the closing was announced early in the year, UCLA officials also said they believed programs similar to Fernald's were available elsewhere in the area.

Parents and a state consultant disputed the claim of duplication of services, contending that Fernald is unique in its dual role of research and training. In June, they succeeded in enlisting actor Paul Newman and his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, in the cause. Newman and Woodward offered to contribute $100,000 to keep Fernald open "at least for a year to allow the school to seek an alternative."

UCLA declined the offer, however, saying the issue was not the money. "What is most important . . . is the research and training of UCLA students," spokesman Harlan Lebo said. "Fernald just was not meeting those objectives."

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