That Doe Family….again

Let’s wrap up the summer (school starts next week, doesn’t it?)  with a reminder about the infamous Doe Family.  These people are relentlessly litigious. You can find their fingerprints on lawsuits all over the country, usually involving their son, John, or their daughter, Jane.  You should examine the names of the children who have enrolled in your school for the upcoming year.  Has the Doe Family moved to your district? If so—take proactive measures. Take them out to dinner. See what they want. Give it to them. Keep them happy.  It may prevent litigation.

The latest example comes to us from Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  The family claimed that the local school district flunked the “Child Find” test.  They argued that their daughter—Jane again—should have been referred for testing for a disability. 

The court sided with the district on this one, holding that the district satisfied its child find obligations.  The student had good grades, very few absences, and no reported discipline problems in school.   However, there were many emotional and behavioral issues at home.  For 9th and 10th grades, this did not affect school performance and so no referral was called for. When absences increased in 11th grade the school initiated a 504 referral which the court found reasonable.

One noteworthy aspect of this case is the court’s appreciation for the fact that “Child Find” is more art than science. Key Quote:

School staff considering a student’s need for either an accommodation or special education services are not charting planetary motion with astronomical instruments, but are instead deciding how best to facilitate educational objectives for a unique child with particular issues in a particular school setting.  In this sense, the child-find factors, in my view, should not be regarded as a clockwork armillary sphere. The standard of reasonableness calls for a measure of leeway to explore whether a school’s referral occurred at an appropriate time.

“Armillary sphere”????  I had to look that one up too.  I found that it is “a model of the celestial globe constructed from rings and hoops representing the equator, the tropics, and other celestial circles, and able to revolve on its axis.”

You know: sorta like your Child Find procedures.

The case is Doe v. Cape Elizabeth School Department, decided by the federal court in Maine on April 29, 2019. We found it at 74 IDELR 95.


More Dawg Bones next week!