September 01, 2016
Weil settled a claim for attorneys’ fees in the amount of $140,000 in connection with our successful pro bono representation of a special education student and his mother in federal court. The money will be donated to New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the referring organization, to sponsor a new employee position focused on disability rights, including special education.
The underlying dispute arose when the Department of Education (DOE) recommended that the student attend a school that was geared toward much lower-functioning students and that could not implement the services required for his special needs as required under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). For the previous five years, the student had been attending, at the DOE’s expense, a specialized private school for students with a speech and language impairment. Another firm represented the student in an administrative hearing in which the impartial hearing officer found that the DOE’s recommended school was inappropriate and ordered the DOE to continue paying the student’s private school tuition. But that decision was subsequently overturned by a State Review Officer (SRO) on the basis that the challenge to the DOE’s recommended placement was “speculative” because the student had never actually attended the challenged placement.
Weil was then asked to take over the matter and file an appeal in federal court seeking to reinstate the initial administrative finding. The Weil team successfully argued that the SRO’s decision requiring the parent to place the student in what she believed to be an inappropriate school in order to challenge that placement was antithetical to the IDEA and its “stay put” provision, which allows students to remain at their current school while the placement challenge is pending. The Weil team also secured a finding that the DOE’s recommendation was inappropriate and that the DOE was required to pay for the student’s tuition at the private school placement.