The school district has made an offer of $600,000 to settle a payment dispute with its former special education services provider. Lawyers for the district made the offer to Kid Clan Services last Wednesday to settle the lawsuit.
Kid Clan Services has 10 days to accept the offer, according to documents filed in New Jersey Superior Court.
“The offer to settle is a recent re-creation. For years Paterson declined to discuss settlement,” said Steven Menaker, attorney for Kid Clan Services, on Tuesday morning. “It’s too little too late now.”
Menaker said trial in the case is scheduled for April.
The district could have settled the lawsuit in July 2018, according to court documents, by paying out $600,000, the same amount it is now offering. There was a push to get a resolution approved through the Board of Education in September, but for unspecified reasons the effort fell apart.
“It’s still ongoing,” said school board president Oshin Castillo in declining to comment. She referred questions to the district’s lawyer.
The district’s previous lawyers, Barto & Barto, briefed the school board on the settlement in September, according to court filings. A settlement resolution was expected to be presented to the board on Sept. 28, 2018, but was postponed to the Nov. 2018 meeting.
“District officials are declining to comment,” said Paul Brubaker, spokesman for the Paterson Public Schools, on Tuesday morning.
The lawsuit stemmed from the district’s failure to pay Kid Clan Services of Clifton for services rendered. The firm was contracted to provide speech, occupational, physical, and behavioral therapies to special education students at 54 schools for the 2016-17 school year.
785 students relied on services provided by the company, according to court documents. Hundreds of students were left without state mandated services after the district’s ill-conceived move to halt payments to Kid Clan Services.
The provider made repeated attempts for payments. After notifying the district, it was forced to stop providing services on Feb. 7, 2017.
“I’m having a little difficulty receiving payment and I need to keep paying our providers so that the children keep receiving services,” said Dinah Leiter, president of Kid Clan Services, to the school board on Nov. 30, 2016. “I am scheduled to meet with Ms. Coy and I’m sure we’re going to work it out, but I just wanted you to be aware of it.”
Why didn’t the district pay the company?
Kid Clan Services was allegedly “juking up bills, inflating the bills,” said Cheryl Coy, head of special education at the Paterson school district, in a deposition.
Coy’s use of the word “juking,” a term that the company, staffed mostly by Orthodox Jewish women, found offensive and viewed as a religious slur, set off back and forth legal briefs between the parties.
Lawyers for the firm viewed it as an offensive remark equivalent to being “jewed” which means to swindle someone out of money. The firm’s lawyers in filings invoked Shylock from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” to state Coy’s term recalled to mind a historic stereotype of Jews as dishonest business people.
“I have never heard the term used to denote anything relating to any religion,” Coy said in a court filing. “At no time did I intend for the term ‘juking’ to be construed as a derogatory religious term.”
The company has argued in court filings the district made extraordinary demands that expanded scope of services.
For example, in an Aug. 30, 2016 meeting, the district indicated no direct services would be provided to high schools, but by the end of October, five high schools required coverage.
Initially, speech therapists were not required to do case management for speech-only children, but were later required to do so.
The firm was told it would not be providing counseling, but was later required to do so.
At the district’s instruction, the firm hired an Arabic speech therapist for Hani Awadallah School. After two days, the company was told the speech therapist was no longer needed at the site.
The firm was told School 25 needed five-day coverage and it had to hire two new therapists. When services were started School 25 required only three days of coverage. A speech therapist lost her job and scheduling time.
The dispute covers invoices from Sept. 2016 through Feb. 2017, according to court filings.
“They received the services, but have not paid for them,” said Menaker. He said the district, which hasn’t paid anything in years to his client, is now looking for a discount.
Kid Clan Services is owed $738,149 in unpaid bills, according to the lawsuit.
Menaker said his client has been able to survive because it has business with other schools. It is well-known and respected for the services it provides, he said.