Toolbox Tuesday Tackles School Refusal

We save Tuesdays in the Daily Dawg for stories that illustrate how “the Toolbox” works in practice. The Toolbox consists of ten tools that administrators can deploy to serve students with disabilities who present challenging behaviors. The idea is to serve each student properly while maintaining order and discipline for all.  Today we report a case from our 5th Circuit that illustrates a principle that undergirds all of the Toolbox. In fact, it undergirds all of the operation of your special education program.

That principle is this: our special education laws assume and depend upon the reasonable, good faith collaboration of educators and parents.  Courts and hearing officers will always be silently assessing the reasonableness of the parties.

The case involved a student who did not attend school for almost an entire semester. As often happens in situations like that, the parties had very different views of why this happened.  It started when the parents reported alleged bullying at the school and sought homebound placement for their son.  The stories of the parties diverge from there.  The parents alleged that the school gave them the bureaucratic run around and unnecessarily delayed providing services, thus failing to respond properly to a report of bullying.  The school claimed that the parents failed to get the necessary homebound documentation back to the school, and were just keeping the boy at home.  This presents what the lawyers refer to as a “fact issue.” That fact issue was decided in favor of the school by the special education hearing officer and the district court. Now the Circuit Court has affirmed that view, largely based on the good faith efforts of teachers and administrators:

From February to June, C.J.’s teacher communicated with his parents nearly thirty times, attempting to convince them to return him to school.  Administrators arranged for C.J.’s teacher to meet him at the car when his parents dropped him off and to escort him inside the school building, so he would feel safe.  School officials also offered to allow C.J. to spend the first hour of the day in the office of student support to ease his transition to the school environment. These facts belie the parents’ claims that teachers and school administrators were callous and unresponsive to C.J.’s fears about bullying.

Considering C.J.’s parents’ failure to follow up with the requested paperwork for five weeks while they continued to withhold him from school, and considering further the school district’s repeated outreach and offers of accommodation, the school district’s behavior was reasonable. 

The case is Renee J. v. Houston ISD, decided by the 5th Circuit on January 16, 2019.  We found it at 2019 WL 211216.  There is a lot more to this case, all of which was decided in favor of Houston ISD.  Those of you who receive our firm’s special education newsletter, This Just In….can find a more complete report there.


Tomorrow: another win for a Texas district in special education litigation.