Parents’ “inflexibility” dooms their lawsuit.

Rockwall ISD has prevailed in a special education case decided by the 5th Circuit. The court concluded that the parents had taken an inflexible “all or nothing” approach at the ARDC meeting.   Dissatisfied with the district’s proposed placement of their daughter, the parents sought reimbursement for private school tuition. They won their case before the special education hearing officer, but Rockwall appealed into federal court. The federal district court ruled for the district, and now the 5th Circuit has affirmed.

I know that educators get tired of lawyers harping on the importance of written documentation. But this case is a great example of how important the written record is. The ARD minutes, testimony, letters and emails from the district enabled the court to conclude that the district took “a collaborative approach” to the IEP process, whereas “the record shows that the Parents had no intention of continuing with the ARDC unless RISD approved their proposal.”

The court’s opinion notes that the parents and their advocate frequently voiced their questions and ideas during the meeting, and that “RISD officials repeatedly revised the language of their proposal to incorporate the parties’ suggestions.”   From reading this opinion, I get the impression that the district was listening, open minded and flexible.  The court concluded that it was the parents who refused to return to the table unless the district agreed to their plan.  Districts are sometimes accused of going into ARDC meetings with a “predetermined” mindset. This case shows us that “predetermination” is a two-way street.

The case is Rockwall ISD v. M.C., decided by the 5th Circuit on March 10, 2016. We found it at 2016 WL 929445.