A student falls five times over a three-year period: how big of a legal problem is that?

Here is how the 5th Circuit summarized its decision in favor of Highland Park ISD (Dallas) in a case involving a student with multiple, severe disabilities:

Highland Park expended a great amount of time and resources developing and implementing an IEP that was based on multiple in-depth evaluations of R.S.’s unique needs and abilities with significant input from R.S.’s parents and expert consultants, and R.S. achieved at least some academic and non-academic benefits as a result of his plan.  The district court accordingly did not err in finding that Highland Park provided R.S. with a FAPE as IDEA requires.

Congratulations to Highland Park and its staff.

The main problem for the school was the fact that the student had fallen and hurt himself five times over a three-year period.  For most elementary-aged students this would probably be no big deal.  None of the falls resulted in broken bones or any other major injuries.  But for this student, given the nature and severity of his disabilities, these falls were a major concern.  The student is non-verbal, non-ambulatory and needs assistance for all physical activities.  He does not have “automatic protective responses to prevent or minimize injury when he falls.” So the student might not break a fall with his hands or knees, but rather, might land on his face.  So the concern was understandable. The parents alleged that the falls provided evidence that the school failed to ensure the student’s safety, thus depriving him of the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to which he was entitled.

The court did not see it that way.  Key Quote:

That R.S. suffered some minor injuries does not mean that R.S.’s IEP was not reasonably calculated to prevent injuries from occurring to the maximum extent feasible. 

The court particularly noted that the district responded to each of the five falls with a response designed to prevent future problems:

And each time R.S. fell, Highland Park implemented new measures that were intended to prevent the fall from reoccurring. That these measures were not 100% successful does not establish that Highland Park’s IEP was not reasonably calculated to allow him to learn.

Safety was the main issue in this case, but there were others as well. We will save those for tomorrow.  The case is R.S. v. Highland Park ISD, decided by the 5th Circuit on February 26, 2020.  It’s at 2020 WL 914703.


Tomorrow: More on the Highland Park case.