On December 13, 1996, parents of a student with autism filed this lawsuit on his behalf in the Eastern District Court of Arkansas. The plaintiffs sued the Arkansas Department of Education, the Williford School District, and individuals acting in their official capacities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs, represented by public interest attorneys, asked the court for injunctive relief, including compensatory education for the student, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys fees. The plaintiffs claim that the Williford School District failed to implement any method of teaching to assist or promote the disabled students' learning. Specifically, plaintiffs claim that the student was not provided with an integrated and appropriate education that would meet state standards.
The plaintiff was diagnosed with autism at age 5, though the claims about his education begin with his enrollment in 7th grade. Plaintiff's parents claim that the school district failed to provide — and the state failed to oversee — an education that benefited the student. He was excluded altogether from Williford classrooms and schools, leaving him isolated from his peers. The plaintiff was only given "home bound" instruction, at a frequency well below the state's standards, and he was deprived of large parts of the high school curriculum. Furthermore, plaintiff's parents claim that the classes their son did take at the school — performance art and drawing — were pursued under their own initiative and required them to forego jobs and other necessities in order to assist the instructors in teaching their son. Additionally, the "home bound" instruction was primarily done on the computer, and required the parents to obtain the materials and teach their son themselves, instead of the district personnel. Plaintiffs claim that the defendants' treatment of the student deprived him of a proper education, and thus placed them in violation of the IDEA, ADA, and Section 504.
In a case proceeding the one at hand, the family complained to the Arkansas Department of Education about the student's education in an IDEA hearing. The family then complained to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for a failure of due process. The DOE found that the Arkansas Department of Education delayed 3 of its 5 hearing decisions, ruling well beyond the 45 day limit.
On November 21, 1997, Judge Moody granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, but stayed the proceedings pending the 8th Circuit Court of Appeal's ruling on whether the 11th Amendment barred a federal court from having jurisdiction over an IDEA claim. The 8th Circuit held that Arkansas had waived its 11th Amendment immunity with respect to the IDEA claims by participating in the federal spending program, and the case was remanded to the district court. In December 1997 the plaintiff filed a cross-appeal, but the 8th Circuit dismissed his claim in September the following year.
In November 2000 this case was consolidated with Jim C. v. Arkansas Department of Education
with this as the leading case. After an initial denial, Judge Moody granted class action certification for school-age children with disabilities and their parents and guardians in September 2001.
On September 18, 2001, both defendants were denied summary judgement. Defendants appealed. On November 4, 2002, The 8th Circuit held that the plaintiffs did not meet their burden under Section 504, failing to show that school officials acted in bad faith or with gross misjudgment. Furthermore because the plaintiffs failed to ask for appropriate remedy under § 1983 and IDEA, the state officials were entitled to immunity. The 8th Circuit reversed Judge Moody's decision and remanded for further proceedings. On May 12, 2003, Judge Moody dismissed all claims for money damages against individual defendants.
Following a trial, Judge Moody found that neither the state nor Williford School District violated the federal statutes. He held that the school district had developed a reasonable program to educate the plaintiff, and that, under the totality of the circumstances, had not created a hostile educational environment. On September 10, 2004, Judge Moody issued a judgement for the defendants and dismissed the case with prejudice. A subsequent appeal to the 8th circuit ultimately affirmed the judgement in May 2006. Carolyn Weltman - 03/13/2016