(The Sentinel) — A federal court in Kansas ordered the Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) to pay a Westwood family $400,000 for legal fees following three years’ litigation over a child’s special education program.
In his 84-page ruling Judge Daniel Crabtree found the district violated special education law and failed to properly evaluate and provide needed services to the son of Christopher and Natalie Beer, identified in court documents as “A.B.” and diagnosed in 2019 with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism. He is attending 5th grade this year.
The district has spent over $430,000 on its own legal fees, stemming from a disagreement with the couple over the scope of their son’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). A hearing officer with the Kansas State Department of Education sided with the Beers, and a review officer mostly agreed with that decision. Shawnee Mission appealed, setting the stage for the court proceedings.
Among other remedies the district must provide as ordered by the court:
- pay for outside professionals to re-evaluate the student
- hire a specialist to develop a new IEP for him
- contract with an independent behavior analyst
Matthew Rogers is attorney for the Beer family. We asked him about the precedent-setting nature of this case:
“A parent’s right to meaningfully participate in the development of their child’s education plan is a core component of the Individuals with Disabilities Act. This case reinforces that principle. Families finding themselves in similar disputes regarding their child’s special education should take note and continue advocating for their child. Sometimes that means that parents need to ask hard questions of school staff, involve their attorney, and express their disagreement. While education disputes can oftentimes be resolved amicably, families are not without options if the process breaks down. They may continue advocating for their child, just as the Beers successfully did.”
Natalie Beer summarized the case and its resolution:
“Ultimately, almost a half-a-million dollars was spent on this. What could that money have done for all of these other kids? Why do you have money to fight these children that need services, but you don’t have money to just give them services? It’s absolutely kind of ridiculous. What does that say about our culture?”
This isn’t the first time the Shawnee Mission school board made questionable use of taxpayer money intended to educate students. Earlier this year, The Sentinel discovered the board used $4 million of funding intended to help at-risk students to increase cash reserves.