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Civil Rights Unit Rejects Complaint Over Handicapped Busing Shortage

Times Staff Writer

After a 3-month investigation, the federal Office of Civil Rights has determined that the Orange County Department of Education responded adequately last fall to a bus shortage for handicapped students and did not violate their civil rights.

The federal agency said the county department “is currently in compliance” with a U.S. law requiring free transportation of the handicapped, and the agency dismissed a civil rights complaint against the department.

The Orange County Board of Education, which governs the $50-million budget for the County Department of Eduction, learned of the action at its regular Thursday meeting.

John E. Palomino, regional civil rights director for the U.S. Office of Civil Rights in San Francisco, notified the department that “based upon the action taken by the Orange County Department of Education to provide emergency transportation to improve the service already provided and to provide supplemental instruction to compensate for instructional time lost, the Office of Civil Rights finds the (county department) is currently in compliance.”

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But Rhys Burchill, executive director of Developmental Disabilities Area Board XI, the panel that filed the civil rights complaint, said Thursday that her group is still checking on how the Orange County Department of Education provides transportation for the handicapped.

“Definitely the crisis is over, but there still seem to be sporadic problems, and when these problems surface, we inform the County Department of Education of our concern,” Burchill said.

Her group is a watchdog agency for the handicapped.

Last September, many buses taking handicapped students to special schools in the county stopped regular service, at one point stranding up to half the 800 handicapped students served by the County Department of Education.

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The bus service bogged down because of a dispute between the contractor, Durham Transportation Inc. of Rosemead, and the department. Durham officials claimed that the department was not paying enough. The department claimed that it was paying what the contract called for and that Durham was deliberately refusing to fulfill its contract for buses.

During the dispute, scores of parents complained that they had no regular transportation for their handicapped children. As a result, Developmental Disabilities Area Board XI on Sept. 20 filed a civil rights complaint against the County Department of Education.

A federal law, which is enforced through the Office of Civil Rights, requires public school districts to provide free bus service to handicapped students.

On Oct. 7, Robert Peterson, Orange County superintendent of schools, announced that he was canceling Durham’s contract, effective June 30, and that a new bus contractor will be sought. In the meantime, Peterson said, other buses and taxis will supplement Durham in providing service through June 30.

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Peterson also said the department will provide makeup schooling for students who missed classes because of bus shortages.


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