Navigating IDEA for Parents

A federal law, the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act or IDEA, requires schools to work with parents cooperatively to educate kids with disabilities. I have represented parents in this process from time to time over the years. Generally, I try to stay out of direct engagement with the Schools and have the parents work cooperatively but strategically to achieve their goals. Get the expert reports to support your position is advice I give regularly. Special Ed teachers pick their careers because they want to help, not hurt kids. They don’t need or appreciate accusing lawyers breathing down their necks. But sometimes bureaucrats to whom the teacher’s report don’t understand the needs that the child faces and are unduly rigid. When this occurs, on rare occasions, we can bring an administrative process and follow up with court action.

The story here raises another issue, however. The issue here is for a Type 1 diabetic child, and whether the child can inject the insulin mix in school. Here, the parents must mix the insulin in the syringes or face enormous costs. The District in this case undoubtedly worries about liability if the mix from the parents produces an adverse reaction. We face a shortage of insulin in this country, and diabetics must navigate cost-effective ways to stay alive. But school districts must determine who can mix medications that children can take on their property.

In other words, a national health care problem is getting played out in both a school bureaucracy and a courtroom in the context of an educational civil rights case.

Courts and lawyers throughout the country often end up navigating the practical effects of policies set in Washington. Sometimes you may read about a court case and wonder, why did we get to this point that a lawsuit must be filed? The answer often is, we are all constrained by the laws and rules that govern our behavior. Each side has a point to make and is stuck with a practical limitation. Sometimes it takes a judge to hear the competing arguments and make a decision. That is not a failure of our system. Lawsuits are not inherently bad. Lawyers help sharpen the issues and this allows judges to issue decisions to provide clarity which rule governs.

If the losing side doesn’t like the ruling, then they can lobby their legislators to change the law. A representative can more clearly understand how to change the rules to avoid the problems that have emerged because the lawsuit helped clarify the competing rules.

Click here to read the NY Times article, “Utah Family Sues After Son with Diabetes Is Kept From School”.

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