Was the district “willfully ignorant”?

The parents of J.M. allege that the school in North Carolina remained “willfully ignorant” about how to serve their child who had an unusual kind of visual impairment.  J.M. had CVI—Cortical Visual Impairment.  According to the court, “individuals with CVI can ‘see’ the world, but their brains cannot process and interpret what they see.” Thus, unlike other VI children, those with CVI can improve their functional vision with intervention.

Among other things, the parents alleged that the district inappropriately predetermined that Braille was the way to address the student’s reading issues and offered IEPs with Braille over parental objections and without evaluation data to support that decision.  The parents also alleged that the school intentionally removed the only teacher it had who had CVI Range Endorsement.  The parents also alleged that the school failed to comply with the ADA regulations pertaining to effective communication. Those regs require that public entities give “primary consideration” to the preference of the person with the impairment in selecting how to accommodate it. The complaint cited the school’s choice of Braille, and the failure to provide print media in large print. 

It’s hard to believe that a school district would be “willfully ignorant” of how to serve a student but that’s what is alleged here and at this stage of the proceedings (a Motion to Dismiss) the court is required to accept those allegations as Gospel truth.  So the court refused to dismiss the claim of discrimination and retaliation. The court held that the plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that the district obstinately remained willfully ignorant of how to serve a student with CVI.  

The court rejected the school district’s argument that IDEA required the use of Braille and held that the allegations, if true, would amount to a failure to comply with the ADA regulations. The ADA regs apply to people with vision, hearing, or speech impairments. They require that public entities must “honor the choice [of the individual with a disability] unless it can demonstrate that another effective means of communication exists or that the use of the means chosen would result in a fundamental alteration or an undue financial and administrative burden.” 

The district was wrong about what IDEA says about Braille. IDEA does make Braille the first option, the “default,” so to speak.  But it says that Braille should be offered unless the IEP Team determines that Braille is not appropriate for the particular child.  In other words, and as usual, all decisions should be based on the child’s individual evaluation data. 

It’s J.M. v. Wake County BOE, decided by the federal court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, and cited in Special Ed Connection at 81 IDELR 230.

DAWG BONE: BRAILLE IS THE DEFAULT, BUT NOT MANDATED. Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com