Teen with Down Syndrome Wins Inclusion Case in Federal Court
Breaking news!! I’m happy to announce the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision that 15-year-old Luka’s school district violated the teen’s rights to a free and appropriate education in his least restrictive environment. In a lightning fast decision, the 6th Circuit Court also ruled that Hamilton County Department of Education in Tennessee must reimburse Luka’s family for the cost of private school education.
Luka’s mom, Deborah Duncan, said today’s decision validates years of fighting for Luka’s right to be a fully included member of his school community. “Hopefully this will prevent other students from facing segregation, empower families to insist on real educational services and measurable outcomes for their child with a disability, and make it impossible for schools to continue discriminatory practices against students with disabilities,” Deborah says of the decision.
Hamilton County School District in Tennessee wanted to place Luka for half his day in a self-contained classroom in a school outside of his neighborhood. “The segregated class follows no state curriculum or standards. There’s no homework or grades. No accountability,” Luka’s mother Deborah Duncan explains. Knowing Luka would not receive a Free and Appropriate Education in the Least Restrictive Environment if he stayed, Deborah moved her son to a Montessori school where he continues to attend today.
After paying private school tuition, $75,000 dollars in legal fees, and a five year battle with the school district the family eventually prevailed at the district court level in Tennessee. The District Court ruled that a self-contained class is more restrictive than necessary, but that the family would not receive reimbursement for the private Montessori School.
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Then Hamilton County Schools filed an appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Federal Appeals. “They have no ground to land on, but it allows them to delay reimbursement of our legal fees. They just look vindictive and have spent a lot of taxpayer money just to violate the law. We finally decided to cross appeal for reimbursement of the Montessori school private tuition,” Deborah explains.
Now the Sixth Circuit has ruled that the district must pay the family for all the years of private tuition they incurred, and upheld the lower court’s decision that Luka’s rights to FAPE in LRE were in fact violated. Today’s decision will impact students with disabilities in the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan.
Read the full text of the decision here.