Douglas County School District pays $1.3M settlement to family of student with special needs

Payment marks end to an ongoing legal battle

Posted 6/28/18

After a years-long legal battle, the court case involving the Douglas County School District and the family of a son with special needs has been resolved. On May 3, the school district paid $1.32 …

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Douglas County School District pays $1.3M settlement to family of student with special needs

Payment marks end to an ongoing legal battle

Posted

After a years-long legal battle, the court case involving the Douglas County School District and the family of a son with special needs has been resolved.

On May 3, the school district paid $1.32 million to Spies, Powers & Robinson, the law firm of the family, for costs related to their son's education at Firefly Autism House, a private school in Denver for students with autism that costs roughly $70,000 a year. The settlement is listed under "financial transparency" on the school district's website.

The case is known as Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The student, who is identified only as Endrew F. in court documents, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 and with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder a year after that, court documents say. His autism affects his cognitive functioning, language and reading skills, and his social and adaptive abilities.

He attended Douglas County schools from preschool through fourth grade. During that time, he received special-education services, including Individualized Education Plans, also known as IEPs.

In 2010, Endrew F.'s parents pulled him out of Summit View Elementary in Highlands Ranch. They argued he wasn't provided the level of public education promised under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees a "free appropriate public education” to all students with disabilities.

They sought reimbursement from the school district for their child's tuition and related expenses at Firefly.

In August 2015, the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the school district did provide a "a free appropriate public education."

Nearly a year later, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled with the family's side, a decision that would have ramifications for special needs students across the country.

In the decision, Chief Justice John Roberts said that it is not enough for school districts to offer minimal instruction for special-needs children. The school programs must be "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances."

On Jan. 12, U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock ordered that the Douglas County School District reimburse the family of Endrew F. for costs associated with his private education.

The family and their lawyer had until March 5 to submit damages to district court. Costs would cover private school education, transportation to and from school, pre-judgment interest, attorney's fees and litigation costs, according to the family's lawyer.

The $1.32 million payment came out of the school district's general fund, financial documents on the district's website say.

In light of the court case that garnered nationwide attention, new resources to help communities understand the Supreme Court's decision have been released.

In December, the U.S. Department of Education published a detailed Q&A on the topic online at https://tinyurl.com/ycpu6gdd.

Earlier this year, the National Center for Learning Disabilities released an Endrew F. Advocacy Toolkit for parents. The downloadable toolkit, available at https://tinyurl.com/yavt5qex, aims to help parents advocate for children with disabilities and improve IEP plans.

The school district did not release a statement on the settlement.

“At this time, we have nothing further to add,” spokeswoman Paula Hans said in an email.

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