Almost six years ago the parents of a child with autism sat in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting and disagreed with the Schools offer of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). The parents’ felt their child, Chuka Chibougwu, was not being provided an appropriate education and exercised their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to disagree with the School District’s offer and request a due process hearing. This caused the School District to put a bulls-eye on the backs of Mr. & Mrs. Chibougu and try their best to bankrupt this family. The School District that was trying to financially ruin this family was the Alief Independent School District in Texas and the story that played out was nothing short of amazing.
Chuka’s Parents not wanting to fight any longer asked that their due process complaint against the School District be dismissed in favor of educating their child at home. Alief who had already filed a counter-complaint decided to continue with their complaint and ask a hearing officer to determine whether the Chibougwus’ original complaint was improper. In his decision, the Hearing officer did provide some relief to the School District but did NOT find that the Chibougwu’s complaint was improper. This was not enough for Alief and they filed a lawsuit in federal court for reimbursement of their legal expenses arguing that the original complaint brought by the Chibougwus’ was both improper and included harassment. This lawsuit was filed in March of 2008 but was later dismissed by the Judge. Alief, still not satisfied, appealed the dismissal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s dismissal and remanded the case back stating that the court should rule on:
(1) whether C.C.’s parents’ administrative complaint “was presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, to cause unnecessary delay, or to needlessly increase the cost of litigation, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(III); and (2) if so, whether the district court, in its discretion, considers it appropriate to award attorneys’ fees against the parents, id. § 1415(i)(3)(b)(i).
Fast forward to June of 2012 almost six years after that fateful IEP meeting and we finally have a ruling. In the case of Alief Independent School District VS C.C. it was concluded that:
The Court denies the plaintiff’s (Alief) motion and grants the defendants’ (Chibougwus’) motion. Parents have a vested interest in the proper education of their children. Inevitably, school districts and the parents of a child with special needs will occasionally disagree concerning what constitutes the appropriate education of that child. Although such disagreements may become prolonged and adversarial, that does not necessarily mean that the parents are defending their perception of their child’s best educational interests for an improper purpose. Accordingly, the Court exercises its discretion to decline awarding attorney’s fees to the plaintiff.
The Judge went on to say, “Even if the process was acrimonious, that does not mean it was impermissible. Accordingly, the Court holds that the plaintiff is not entitled to attorney’s fees.” Take a few minutes to watch the video below on the story and the interview with Chuka’s Parents. As they state very eloquently, “Somebody had to stand up. We didn’t ask for this. We didn’t want this fight because we wanted anything out of it. All that we asked is to help our child.