Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Court Victory for Virginia Parents Seeking Services for Autistic Child

In a victory for a family seeking services for their 12-year-old child with autism, a federal judge ruled last week that the school district in Hanover County, Virginia, failed to offer a free and appropriate education for the child as required under federal law. The result of the ruling (pending appeal) is that the school district will have to pay for the child's private school tuition. The case is called J.P. v. School Board of Hanover County, Va.

This article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch explains the facts of the case. The article points out that this is the second legal victory this year won by parents of kids with autism in front of federal Judge Robert Payne. (You can read about the other case, Henrico County School Board v. R.T., here.) In the latest case, the judge found that school officials in Hanover County did not accurately represent the facts of J.P.'s abilities, and so created a program that did not appropriately serve his right to an education.

Peter and Pamela Wright, the couple that make up Wrightslaw, have a very useful summary of the issues in this case that would be helpful for parents and special education lawyers to study. See the Wrights' writeup here, which also links to a copy of the 88-page court decision.

For example, the Wrights point out, the case shows how vital it is to keep reliable, objective data reflecting what progress a child in a special education program makes -- or fails to make. The judge criticized the school district for presenting a speech therapist's log in court that purported to show J.P.'s progress. But in fact, other evidence that was more reliable showed that J.P. was not making progress.

The moral of the story: J.P.'s parents were justified in persevering with their concerns about their child. They could have given up after a state hearing officer rejected their arguments. But they pressed on and prevailed.

1 comment:

Michael Goldberg said...

These cases as well as other decisions by courts around the country form a body of case law that can guide parents in the decisions they make as they look at protecting their childrens' rights to a public education. No one likes a fight, particularly with school officials who oversee the progress of disabled kids in their schools. But it's good to know that in cases that do make it to court, that the parents can get a fair hearing. In both of these Virginia cases, the judge clearly listened to parents' concerns and found that school districts bound by law to provide an education weren't doing what they were supposed to do. So the judge ruled in favor of the parents. And the reasons he ruled that way are instructive for other parents.