Mental health advocates seek TRO to restore AB 3632 money

Papers were filed Thursday in federal court seeking an immediate restoration of funding to mental health services for special education students - a program that was eliminated earlier this month by a gubernatorial veto.

A ruling on the request could come early next week.

Advocates representing an estimated 22,000 special education students who rely on the AB 3632 services, have asked a federal judge in Los Angeles to order the governor and several state agencies to keep the program going while the court considers a class-action suit over the funding cut can be decided.

The funding veto has caused a snarl in public administration, where school districts are pitted against county mental health providers over responsibility of services to emotionally-troubled youths.

The adults need to stop pointing fingers and solve this crisis," said Laura Faer, an attorney with Public Counsel, one of the organizations mounting the legal challenge to the governor's veto. "Children and families are suffering and they are entitled to these services under federal law."

The motion filed Thursday argues that there is no question that the services are required. "The only dispute in the matter is which of the named defendants is responsible for paying and providing the services."

In a surprise move earlier this month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed $133 million in state funding that goes to the counties so that professionals from the mental health departments can oversee care of students that are often in crisis and suicidal.

The governor's office explained that in this extreme fiscal period, the state could no longer afford the program and noted that schools will receive about $4 billion in state and federal funds for special education.

The problem, school officials say, is that most of that money is already spoken for. They also point out that schools lack the medical expertise and legal authority to oversee such things as mental health assessments, case management, individual and group therapy and rehabilitative counseling.

Last week a coalition of advocates - Public Counsel, Disability Rights California, Mental Health Advocacy Services and the Los Angeles firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher - filed a class-action suit in Los Angeles federal court seeking to overturn the funding cut. Defendants in the suit are Schwarzenegger, the California Department of Education and the state's health secretary Kim Belshe.

The suit argues that the state has violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by enacting the governor's funding veto of the AB 3632 money.

Faer said that while that case makes its way through the system, children are being harmed.

"We have children in dire need who are not getting services they would have received on October 7th," Faer said Thursday. "The majority of the counties are not approving new services, they are not taking new applications or accepting new referrals."

To read the TRO motion, click the links below.

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