Felix Consent Decree

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Parents of disabled children including those of Jennifer Felix filed a class-action lawsuit in 1993, alleging that the State of Hawaii was violating the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act because it failed to provide mental health, special education and other services to those children. In 1994, U.S. District Judge David Ezra ruled Hawaii was in violation of the law. In a consent decree settling the lawsuit, the state agreed to create an expansive system to provide those services over the next six years. The Felix Consent Decree set out benchmarks for improvement by the state.

In May 2000, Judge Ezra found the State of Hawaii to be in contempt of court for failing to meet those obligations, but services have ramped up since then.

In May of 2001 a 12-member bipartisan Senate-House Felix Investigation Committee was set up by the Hawaii State Legislature via concurrent resolution. The Committee is charged with tracking the more than $1.4 billion in funds spent since 1994, to make sure that money went for those services due special education children in the public schools. In a 73-page report, released on Dec. 2001, the committee concluded implementation of the Felix Consent Decree had been problematic due to several factors:

  • Unclear requirements for compliance and departmental exploitation of what the committee calls the court's "money is no object" expectations. Millions of dollars allegedly spent for special needs students was unaccounted for.
  • Generally poor oversight and accountability of the departments responsible for implementing the decree and curtailment by the federal court of oversight by the state legislature.
  • "Superpowers" granted to the Superintendent of Education and the Director of Health that allowed them to waive the requirements of the state procurement law and to bypass personnel laws.

In Dec. 2001, Auditor Marion Higa released a report that says the state's response to the Felix Consent Decree "has not achieved the expected results." Auditor Higa stated that "The system of care focused more on procedural compliance rather than on an effective system to help the children. In addition, the system is largely based on treatments that cannot demonstrate effectiveness." The report stated that the departments of Health and Education did not provide a full picture of the costs of complying with the Felix Consent Decree and lacked adequate financial management infrastructure to support the compliance effort.

In April 2004, U.S. District Judge Ezra approved a plan to end court oversight of special education in Hawaii's public schools. Judge Ezra, stating that the state is in "substantial compliance" with federal law, agreed to reduce court oversight under the Felix Consent Decree in anticipation of dismissing the class-action case in 2005.

On May 27, 2005, the case was officially closed under a plan approved by U.S. District Judge David Ezra. This frees the Hawaii state departments of Education and Health from 12 years of court oversight.

The percentage of public-school students classified as special-needs has grown to approximately 12 percent today from about 7 percent before the Consent Decree. Meanwhile, spending on special education has grown from about $75 million in 1994 to $306 million in general fund appropriations for the 2005-06 fiscal year.

External Link

  • Felix decree: Problems and progress: With three months to meet special-ed obligations, a court-appointed monitor says the state falls short (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, May 29, 2000)
  • State auditor critical of Felix-class services (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Dec. 28, 2001)
  • Felix monitor says DOE resists change (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Aug. 7, 2002)
  • Isle health group settles Felix case -- Hawaii Pacific Health will pay up to $1 million to the state but acknowledges no wrongdoing (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Feb. 6, 2003)
  • Felix consent decree nears end -- Preliminary approval is given to a plan to finish court oversight of special education (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 13, 2004)
  • Court scales back oversight of special education (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 9, 2004)
  • BOE fears Lingle proposal -- Officials say that a planned budget will not meet the needs of special education (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Dec. 10, 2004)
  • Felix case is dismissed, but education legacy continues -- State officials say that parents can now play the role of watchdog (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 6-1-05)
  • Special-needs students can thank Jennifer Felix THE ISSUE: The federal court has ended its supervision of the state's special education programs. (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 6-3-05)
  • Ruling puts the onus on isle parents versus DOE -- The Supreme Court decision affects special-needs kids By Dan Martin (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 11-15-05)
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