NSBA has filed an amicus brief asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to ensure that parents of students with disabilities should try to resolve disputes about educational issues through a hearing process established by the main federal special education law before filing a lawsuit.
The case, Payne v. Peninsula School District, involves a student with autism whose individualized education program, or IEP, included the use of a “safe room” to address some of his behavioral difficulties. The child’s mother accused a teacher at his school of mistreating her son by improperly utilizing this behavioral intervention method. Rather than first using the hearing process outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to resolve her dispute, the mother filed a federal lawsuit claiming the teacher’s use of the “safe room” caused her son psychological damage and violated his rights under the IDEA and the U.S. Constitution.
A lower court ruled, and a three-judge panel agreed, that the mother did not have the right to bring her claim to court because she had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under IDEA. The 9th Circuit is scheduled to review the case in December.
“Since IDEA’s passage, some parents have preferred to prematurely litigate cases involving students with disabilities instead of first following the IDEA requirements before going to court,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. “School districts nationally have an interest in seeing that educational matters are resolved as early and as quickly as possible. This avoids costly and prolonged litigation that drains resources away from the classroom and unnecessarily delays delivery of appropriate services to students with disabilities.”
The use of seclusion to discipline or calm students with disabilities has been a point of controversy in the education community in recent years, and Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, has pushed for a new law requiring states to strictly monitor and limit the use of seclusion and restraints for students with disabilities. Although that issue has been a factor in the case, NSBA’s brief notes that, first, the mother agreed to the safe room provision in the IEP, and second, she did not follow the IDEA’s intent to avoid lengthy and costly lawsuits stemming from disagreements on a behavioral intervention plan.