Why parents are suing over special education

Recent lawsuits involve appropriate supports for students with disabilities, response to student behaviors linked to their disability, and delays in legal complaints being resolved
By: | February 12, 2020
Special education lawsuits are alleging that schools are not complying with the Disabilities Education Act. Here are some districts that are in the middle of special education court cases.Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

With tight budgets and unfunded special education mandates, many school districts struggle to provide appropriate individualized programs services for students with disabilities. And that, unfortunately, contributes to the amount of state and school lawsuits that allege failures to comply with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Here are some current special education court cases.

In New York City, a class-action school lawsuit alleges that disabled students who file legal complaints to special education courts wait an average of nine months for a resolution, despite a federal legal wait-time limit of 75 days, reported New York Daily News

The city doesn’t employ enough special ed judges to adequately respond to these legal grievances, so the NYC education department recently increased their pay to attract more hires.

In Virginia, parents filed a due process complaint against Albemarle County Public Schools for not doing enough to help a middle schooler diagnosed with depression and anxiety, reported The Daily Progress


Related: What K-12 districts need to know when adding legal counsel

Related: Why schools are choosing to video record special ed classrooms

Related: Schools are getting sued and investigated for improperly secluding students


The student began cutting himself last year after being sent to detention 33 times in less than three months. 

In the special education lawsuit, the parents allege repeatedly asking the district to evaluate their son for special education. District officials say that the student was disciplined for his disruptive behavior not because of his disability, which would be a violation of federal and state law, reported the newspaper.

In Ohio, a grandmother joined a class-action school lawsuit against the State of Ohio after Columbus City Schools suspended and then tried expelling her son who is diagnosed with ADHD, impulsivity, depression and opposition defiant disorder, reported ABC 6.

Her grandson faces expulsion for saying he would bring a gun to school, even though he doesn’t have access to a firearm at home, the grandmother told the news outlet. “[Columbus City Schools] told me this, this, this, this and this, that he does not have a learning disability. He has a behavior issue,” the grandmother told the news outlet.

Preparing for a special education lawsuit

The legal needs associated with special ed have become a challenge for any district to navigate because special ed has become so complex, reported District Administration.

Ultimately, the biggest pitfall in adding legal counsel may be hiring an attorney who doesn’t specialize in education. 

“There are so many nuances in school law that it’s easy to make a mistake,” Board Attorney and Founding Partner Isabel Machado of Machado LawGroup told DA. “Not every attorney, no matter how skilled they are, is a good fit for every district.”

Take a deep dive into trending special ed topics with nationally recognized experts at LRP’s National Institute, May 3-6 in New Orleans https://www.lrpinstitute.com/