Attorney General Becerra Secures Settlement Against Online Special Education Services Provider, Requiring Independent Expert Review
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced a $600,000 settlement with PresenceLearning, an online for-profit provider of speech and occupational therapy, behavioral and mental health services, and assessments for special education students. The settlement, filed as a stipulated judgment with the Superior Court of San Francisco, resolves allegations that the company engaged in false advertising and misrepresentations regarding its services over a period of several years. In addition to a court order prohibiting such practices, the settlement requires PresenceLearning to submit to a thorough expert review of its services. PresenceLearning operates nationwide with over 100 different schools and more than 4,000 students in California alone.
“The current public health crisis has made online services more essential than ever,” said Attorney General Becerra. “False advertising of those services is unacceptable. Parents and schools have a right to know what they are getting when they make critical decisions about the care and education of their children — especially when it comes to students with learning disabilities. That’s why we took swift action charging PresenceLearning with misrepresenting its services and its record.”
Under California law, false advertising includes any untrue or misleading statement made with the intent of inducing people to purchase a product or service. False advertising can be particularly problematic or detrimental for children when it comes to misleading claims in a health and education setting. In this case, as the result of an investigation by the California Department of Justice, Attorney General Becerra alleged that PresenceLearning made a number of false or misleading representations in its advertising to induce school districts and parents to sign up students with learning disabilities for the company’s teletherapy services. Among other things, these representations — all of which, the complaint alleges, were false or misleading — included claims that:
- PresenceLearning’s services were suitable for virtually all students with disabilities;
- Special education students made specific levels of improvement using PresenceLearning’s services;
- Medical associations and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Education, endorsed or recognized the effectiveness of the company’s teletherapy services; and
- The services were equally as effective as services delivered in-person.
As part of the settlement, PresenceLearning will be required to retain an expert consultant to oversee the company’s compliance with California’s laws and regulations on telehealth. In addition, the company will be required to substantiate advertising claims regarding its services. The California Department of Justice retains the authority to take action against PresenceLearning if the company is found to be in violation of the terms of the agreement.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the rights of students in California and across the country. Last month, following troubling reports of discrimination and retaliation, the Attorney General secured a wide-ranging settlement with the Mojave Unified School District. Attorney General Becerra also filed a lawsuit challenging U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ unlawful attempt to siphon pandemic relief funds away from K-12 public schools. In April, the Attorney General blasted a federal proposal that would create loopholes that favor high sodium foods like pizza, french fries, and burgers in school meals. Last year, Attorney General Becerra secured a historic desegregation agreement with the Sausalito Marin City School District. He also reached an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District to address discriminatory treatment of minority students and students with disabilities.
The California Department of Justice encourages those with information regarding suspected practices in violation of state or federal law involving children and their education to report them to the Bureau of Children’s Justice at https://oag.ca.gov/bcj/complaint or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.