More than 4 of every 10 (41.6%) civil rights suits filed in federal court against schools and universities over the past four years involve students with disabilities, according to a new Syracuse University study. The rise in suits relating to disabilities is the primary cause for the doubling of the total number of civil rights suits against schools since 2013.
Most alarming is that the second greatest number of suits were filed right here in the District Court of New Jersey. The other three courts in the top four are within 150 miles of South Jersey: 1) Southern District of New York (Manhattan), 2) New Jersey, 3) Washington, D.C., and 4) Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).
The rise in Special Education litigation is disappointing. Litigation is of course an option for parents of children not receiving the services they are entitled to, but should be used as a last resort. There are many opportunities for cooperative solutions between parents and schools; sometimes these opportunities require the guidance of an advocate or an attorney, sometimes they can be achieved by motivated parents alone.
A lawsuit should be an extraordinary remedy occurring in only the rarest instances. The filing of a Special Education civil rights lawsuit is most often the result of a complete failure on the part of a party or one of their representatives – most of the time a middle ground can be reached that serves the interests of both the child and his or her school.
We’re seasoned attorneys, so are always prepared to go to court when necessary. But there are so many reasons why working together with the school usually results in a better outcome for students with special needs and his family than litigation: 1) litigation can be expensive, 2) litigation can drag on for months or years, 3) cooperative, negotiated outcomes are more predictable than litigation outcomes, 4) cooperative, negotiated outcomes are less stressful on the family.
We want the best for the Special Education community in South Jersey, and that usually means a cooperative solution without a litigation. Here’s hoping this rise in lawsuits goes no higher.
Click to see the full Syracuse University study: