A family who sued the Prescott Unified School District unsuccessfully under the Individual’s with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) will not have to reimburse the District for $130,000 in legal fees. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the District Court’s ruling that the lawsuit was filed for an improper purpose and thus the Parent’s owed the District reimbursement of their legal expenses. The case, which is R.P. versus Prescott Unified School District, if not overturned, would have had serious negative effects on future IDEA lawsuits. What I found most fascinating about this was one of the reasons for the reversal which stated:
“…the district court erred in holding that anger is an improper purpose that could justify an award of attorney’s fees. Anger is an altogether different motive from those listed in section 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(III) as improper: “to harass, to cause unnecessary delay, or to needlessly increase the cost of litigation.” In fact, anger is a legitimate reaction by parties who believe that their rights have been violated or ignored. One of the roles of the adversarial system is to peaceably resolve disputes that give rise to personal animosity by channeling that indignation into a lawful resolution in lieu of feuding or personal violence. So long as the claim raised is not frivolous, and the litigation is not being pursued in order to achieve an illegitimate objective (such as harassment, delay or imposing unnecessary costs on the opposing party), an award of fees under section 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(III) is not justified.”
The ruling also went on to say, “They (the parents) shouldn’t have to face financial ruin for attempting to vindicate the rights of their disabled child.”
As a parent of a child with special needs I have very often felt both anger and the need to vindicate the rights of my child. These are emotions every parent has when we feel our children need protection. These feeling are just more prevalent when that child also has a disability. How we channel that anger, when dealing with Individualized Education Programs (IEP), is important, especially after this ruling. I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV, but I keep coming back to the following sentence in the 16 page ruling, “…by channeling that indignation into a lawful resolution in lieu of feuding or personal violence.”
One of the first tips we always give parents is to remain calm and try not to become overly aggressive or argumentative. Now, it seems, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is giving a similar tip. Channel your anger into proving your case. Document, organize and prepare to help your child receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and when all else fails file for Due Process. Filing for Due Process is not a sign of aggression, quite the contrary; it is a way to channel your indignation.
Thank you 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for giving me my new catch phrase, “I’m not being aggressive, I’m channeling my indignation”.