A Beginner’s Guide to the Special Education Legal Process: When a School District Sues a Family



This is a summary of the fifth edition of CSNLG’s podcast Special Education Matters. In this podcast, our host Michael Boll and lead attorney Richard Isaacs discuss what families should do if the school district files a lawsuit against the family. The podcast can be found here.

There are two particular instances where a district might sue a family

1. A parent requests an an IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation) to be funded by the school district and the district chooses to defend their assessment

  • In this scenario, the law requires that they file a lawsuit to defend their assessment.
  • At this point, the parent may choose to drop the request for funding, and the lawsuit would go away.

2. The district files a lawsuit to enforce their IEP offer if a parent doesn’t consent to their IEP.

  • For example, there are a lot of families that will disagree with the district’s offer and they’ll push for funding for a private school. The district can then sue to deny your request for them to fund a private school.
  • This typically comes into play when the family files suit for reimbursement of a placement. The district will then turn around and sue the family to defend its placement in response.

Timeframes are different if a district initiates the suit

The time frame is much shorter.

  • When the family files suit: a 30 day resolution period starts, the court has to have a decision within 45 days, so there’s about 75 days for things to work out.
  • When the district files: there is no resolution period, so a hearing has to be held within 45 days.

How do we deal with either of these situations?

It is a scary thing when the district is filing suit against a family. But again, this doesn’t change much – we can usually work it out.

  • Sometimes we countersue, and we join the two cases together and we get new dates set. If the district is going to file, we are also going to file.
  • The OAH (Office of Administrative Hearings) makes the student’s case the controlling case for date purposes and scheduling purposes.

Is it realistic of you to represent yourself in the lawsuit?

  • There are plenty of decisions where parents will go alone and win. The judge is sometimes more lenient towards parents without representation.
  • However, we would never advise a client to go at it alone, although some parents have been quite successful doing that.

To conclude, if you find out that the district filed a lawsuit against you, what steps should you take?

  • Consult with an attorney.
  • There are many attorneys that are able to provide a quick, free consultation and point the family in the right direction.

This summary is part of our complete Beginner’s Guide to the Special Education Legal Process.

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