People see things differently. How do courts sort it out?

A federal court recently issued another decision in a case from Katy ISD that sprang from an incident in November, 2016 when a School Resource Officer (SRO) tased a student.  The Daily Dawg has reported on this piece of litigation twice before: see July 16, 2019 and January 13, 2020. In these earlier decisions the court ruled in favor of the KISD, while declining to dismiss the case against the SRO.  Those decisions are about liability. This one is about FAPE.  It’s an appeal of the decision of the special education hearing officer that the district provided FAPE. The parent disagreed and appealed that decision to the U.S. federal court.

There were some facts that did not reflect well on the school, starting with the tasing incident.  After that happened, the student did not attend school much at all.  He missed 98 days of school in the spring of 2017, and 200 days over all in 2017 and 2018.  Not good.  However, there was evidence of good performance when the student was in school, and there was a lot of evidence of the district’s good faith efforts.  

Much of the decision is based on the interactions of the parties after the tasing incident.  The court noted a few factors that seemed to tilt the decision in favor of the district:

  1.  “Multiple employees reached out to [the mother] after the tasing incident.”
  2. “The assistant principal and [the mother] discussed the tasing incident, but [the mother] ended the phone call before the assistant principal could fully explain.”
  3. The district pointed out that the mother had testified that she had spoken to the diagnostician “billions” of times; to one of the teachers “frequently,” to another teacher “every other day.”  This undercut the allegations that the district had been non-communicative.
  4. The mother declined to give consent for district staff to discuss the student with some of his outside mental health providers.
  5. The district recommended ESY, but the mother declined to accept the district’s offer of transportation for this.
  6. It was difficult to schedule an ARD meeting, due in part to non-responsiveness from the parent.

The court’s opinion never uses the term “parental responsibilities,” but they are implied.  IDEA is built on a framework that assumes good faith collaboration between people who all want the same thing: that the student have a good experience in school.  This means that parents should actively cooperate in finding a time for an ARD meeting; give consent to evaluations that are called for, unless there is some strong reason not to; allow school staff to speak with outside professionals who have worked with the student; take advantage of any and all educational services the district offers. 

As is typical in cases like this, the mother had a very different perspective on the situation, alleging that the district was non-communicative, non-responsive and never effectively addressed the trauma that the student experienced from the tasing incident. Hearing officers and judges have to sort out those different perspectives based on the testimony and written record. In this case, that favored the district’s view.

It’s Washington v. Katy ISD, decided by the federal court for the Southern District of Texas on January 6, 2022.  It’s cited as 2022 WL 61160.


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