On September 13, 2001, seven students with disabilities, by and through their parents, filed this class-action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin against the Milwaukee Public School System ("MPS") and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction ("DPI"). The plaintiffs, represented by attorneys from Disability Rights Wisconsin, claimed that MPS violated their right to a free, appropriate public education as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that they were improperly denied special education services and Individualized Education Programs ("IEPs") designed to fit their needs.
The plaintiffs' original complaint defined the class as "all school age children with disabilities who reside in the Milwaukee Public School District boundaries and who are or may be eligible for special education and related services under IDEA and Wisconsin law." The court, however found this too broad, which prompted the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint on May 3, 2004, redefining the class as "all students eligible to receive special education from MPS who are, have been or will be denied or delayed entry into or participation in the IEP process." Magistrate Judge Aaron Goodstein granted the plaintiffs' motion for class certification.
The district court eventually held a bench trial and found both the city and state defendants liable for systemic violations of the IDEA. Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch., 519 F. Supp. 2d 870 (E.D. Wis. 2007). At that point, DPI settled with the class,
agreeing to order MPS to meet certain compliance benchmarks. The district court approved the settlement over MPS's objection. 2008 WL 2340362 (E.D. Wis. June 6, 2008). The settlement required that MPS conduct at least 95% of its initial evaluations within the required time period (or get proper extensions), that MPS make a reasonable effort to ensure that a parent or guardian was present at 95% of the initial IEP meetings, and that MPS make better efforts in identifying children with disabilities by monitoring school suspension patterns. The Court then appointed a monitor for a two year period to track MPS's compliance, and imposed a comprehensive remedial scheme. 2009 WL 1615520 (E.D. Wis. June 9, 2009).
MPS appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the plaintiffs cross-appealed the denial of certification of their first proposed class. On February 3, 2012, the Seventh Circuit (Judge Diane S. Sykes) quickly dismissed the plaintiffs cross-appeal, noting that it was neither timely nor within the Court's jurisdiction. Turning to MPS's appeal, the Court vacated the Settlement Agreement, holding that the class never should have been certified because the plaintiffs' cases were "highly individualized and vastly diverse," thus making the case inappropriate for a class-action lawsuit. Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Public Schools, 668 F.3d 481 (7th Cir. 2012).
The 7th Circuit opinion stated: "What remains are the claims of the individual plaintiffs; the district court did not find a denial of a free appropriate public education [FAPE] in any individual case. Furthermore, the court's reasons for excusing administrative exhaustion appear to have been tied to the class allegations, and it's not clear whether the court would have excused exhaustion for any of the individual claims. Finally, it's possible - perhaps likely - that some of the named plaintiffs' individual circumstances have changed such that their claims are now moot. We leave it to the district court on remand the task of determining whether anything remains of
this case and what, if anything, should happen next." Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Pub. Sch., 668 F.3d 481, 499-500 (7th Cir. 2012).
On remand, the district court dismissed the action altogether. The court explained that the IDEA requires states to provide a formal process for parents to seek administrative and judicial review of "any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of a child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child" in a funded special-education program. § 1415(b)(6)(A). Any party aggrieved by the findings and decision made after an impartial due process hearing may bring a civil action in federal court. § 1415(i)(2)(A). In this case, none of the individual plaintiffs had followed the formal process, and therefore the court dismissed the case.
Plaintiffs appealed, but later withdrew the appeal. Joshua Arocho - 08/03/2012