by Max Brantley
Federal Judge Leon Holmes has dismissed the Justice Department's lawsuit against the Conway Human Development Center over conditions at the residential center for developmentally disabled.
The Court finds and concludes that Conway Human Development Center complies with all of the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act but not all of the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Because Congress has provided for a state educational agency to enforce compliance with that Act, and because the evidence established that the state educational agency here is enforcing and will enforce compliance, no injunction is necessary or appropriate.
This is a win for the state and backers of the Conway center. In short, the facility will continue to operate as it has.
The federal government has been pushing to move from institutional to community care, but has roadblocks on that effort here. The center became an issue in the governor's race in 2010, with Gov. Mike Beebe defending care at the center and challenger Jim Keet calling the governor down for never having visited to observe treatment himself.
Read on for the state and governor's response:
FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES
... “When the Justice Department raises concerns you have to take them seriously. In this case, Gov.
Beebe listened to them, but he came down foursquare on the side of the residents and family members,
who said they were pleased with the care at Conway,” said John Selig, Director of the Arkansas
Department of Human Services. “Attorney General McDaniel took the same position, and he got
personally involved with the legal team to ensure that the state was well represented.”
Charlie Green, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services, said the
decision, “Shows that we provide much-needed care that can withstand scrutiny by anybody.”
Judge Holmes’ decision validates what the parents and guardians of those living at the Conway
Human Development Center already knew — the staff there work hard to provide good care and the
clients consider the center home, said Calvin Price, Superintendent of the center for the last nine years.
“We have a dedicated and loyal staff, who took the Department of Justice’s allegations personally,”
Price said. “They have always worked diligently to ensure the clients are safe and well taken care of.
It’s clear that the judge understood that.”
Since the Arkansas Department of Human Services began dealing with the Justice Department over the
Conway center eight years ago, the state has maintained that it provides clients with the care they need
in an appropriate setting. The state also has championed the rights of parents and guardians to choose
where their loved ones would live.
Holmes found that center staff provided parents and guardians with adequate information about their
loved ones’ living option, whether that be in the community or at a human development center. The
judge also noted in his findings of fact that the Justice Department’s decision to pursue the lawsuit
was at odds with the parents and guardians who testified that staff genuinely cared for their family
Larry Taylor, president of the statewide group of parents and guardians of people living at human
development centers, said Holmes’ decision puts an end to years of uncertainty about what would have
happened to center clients.
“I don’t know that anything this important has happened since the Conway center opened over 50
years ago, “ Taylor said. “We knew there was no better place for our loved ones. We appreciate Gov.
Beebe defending the lawsuit and our parents’ and guardians’ right to choose the setting that is best for
their loved ones.”
Taylor said Holmes’ decision puts an end to years of uncertainty about what would have happened to
the center clients.
Holmes found that the state had not met all the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act, but noted that center officials had supplied the Arkansas Department of Education
with a corrective action plan. On Wednesday, center officials were notified that the Department of
Education had cleared the facility of all findings related to the special education program.
FROM GOVERNOR MIKE BEEBE
Judge Holmes' decision is a victory for the residents, families and staff of the Conway Human Development Center. We have maintained throughout this case that these residents need a variety of options for care. But it is their families and guardians, not the federal government, who are in the best position to make those decisions. The judge clearly agreed with this position, and we are glad to still have the Conway HDC as an inpatient-care option for developmentally disabled Arkansans.
ATTORNEY GENERAL DUSTIN MCDANIEL
“The Court's decision affirms what the State has argued from the outset of the federal government's investigation: The services provided by the Conway Human Development Center are exemplary and clearly constitutional. We proved to Judge Holmes that the CHDC meets constitutional standards and complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Other states have settled with the Department of Justice rather than go to trial on similar issues, but we were confident that the State could win at trial on the merits of the case. The federal government brought this suit unilaterally over the objections of parents and guardians of CHDC residents. I am grateful for those parents and guardians who have shown their support of the center.