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Article of Interest - Special Education

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Bridges4Kids LogoSpecial Education: Unbelievable Cases Continue
WrightsLaw, April 26, 2005

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Amid Affluence, a Struggle Over Special Education

 

In Amid Affluence, a Struggle Over Special Education, Alison Leigh Cowan of The New York Times takes a hard look at the intense, expensive battles between school districts and parents of disabled children.

Cowan begins in Westport, Connecticut where "Parents are likely to be pouring over Gary Mayerson's
How to Compromise with Your School District Without Compromising Your Child, or Wrightslaw: Special Education Law by Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright."

She moves on to
Hamilton County, Tennessee, "where school officials spent $2.2 million on lawyers and expert witnesses to avoid having to reimburse Maureen and Philip Deal the $60,000 annual cost of providing their autistic son with one-on-one behavioral training." (See also The Inside Story of Zachary Deal v. Hamilton County Board of Education, Part I by Gary Mayerson

Note: After Hamilton County received an adverse decision from the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on December 16, the school board was weighing whether to appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court. The school board said it "welcomes" an audit of school district legal fees. On April 26, the school board announced plans to pursue their appeal while also working toward settlement. (See Breaking News)

Next, Cowan focuses on the Bret Harte Union High School District in Calaveras County, California. That district "fought so hard to block the claims of a student that Judge Oliver W. Wanger took 83 pages to berate the district's 'hard-line position' and its law firm for 'willfully and vexatiously' dragging out the case so long that the student is now 24."

(Note: The judge awarded the student and his attorney sanctions against the Lozano Smith law firm, a former associate at Lozano Smith, and the Bret Harte Union High School District. Lozano Smith was ordered to provide at least six hours of ethics training for all associates. The former associate was ordered to attend 20 hours of ethics training. The judge concluded, "The totality of the sanctioned conduct visits an unendurable burden on the justice system in the name of misguided advocacy.")

Cowan found that parents go to court, leave public schools, or move to other districts in an effort to get special education services for their children. These parents wonder how their lives would be different if the districts simply "spent the money on education, instead of litigation."

Read
Amid Affluence, a Struggle Over Special Education (Registration is required to read articles on the NY Times site)

 

Breaking News! School Board Plans to Appeal Case to Supreme Court - And Work Toward Settlement (April 26, 2005)

 

On Tuesday morning, April 26, the Hamilton County School Board voted to continue their appeal of the autism lawsuit that has cost them at least $2.3 million so far. (See Amid Affluence, a Struggle Over Special Education above) The Board also announced that "a committee will be formed to work toward settlement of the case." This committee will seek a meeting with Gary Mayerson, attorney for the Deal family.

In December 2004, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the Deals and refused to reconsider that ruling. (Read the decision in Zachary Deal v. Hamilton County TN.)

The only appeal remaining is to the United States Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court has already agreed to hear a special education case in Weast v. Brian Schaffer during their next term.

 

School officials describe this as "a precedent-setting case that would require schools to provide a 'Cadillac' program for special education students" that could cost the county $10 million or more.

 

Gary Mayerson, attorney for the Deals, disputes this claim. Mr. Mayerson said the case could have been settled and the services provided for the Deal child for less than the schools paid for just one expert witness. He added that no other similar requests have been filed with the schools.

 

Interestingly, Mrs. Deal learned of the school board's plans to appeal while also pursuing settlement from her local television station.

     

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