- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A tentative agreement has been reached in a 2010 federal lawsuit that claimed New Orleans schools failed to fulfill their obligations to students with a variety of disabilities including autism, hyperactivity and bipolar disorder.

U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey said in an order made public Wednesday that an “agreement in principle” had been reached in the lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of 10 students. Settlement efforts had been going on for months.

Attorneys involved declined comment because the agreement is not yet final. “It’s a pending, ongoing process,” Ken Pastorick, spokesman for the state Education Department, said in an emailed response to questions about the settlement.

The law center claimed the state, which oversees most New Orleans Public Schools, violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Orleans Parish School Board was also a defendant in the suit.

Zainey set a settlement hearing for Feb. 9. His filing Wednesday said the Orleans Parish School Board will vote on the proposed settlement Dec. 16.

The original lawsuit outlined cases in which parents of children with disabilities were unable to find schools that could accommodate their children. In one case, the suit said, a parent was told a child “was no longer welcome to return to school because of a manifestation of his disability.” The child, then 15, had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit with hyperactivity disorders.

In a May interview, Patrick Dobard, the head of the state agency that oversees most New Orleans public schools, didn’t address specific complaints in the suit but listed programs and policies aimed at making sure students with disabilities are served. He also noted improvements in disabled students’ performance on state achievement tests since 2010.

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