DENVER – A federal judge ruled that the Douglas County School District did not provide an adequate education to a student who has autism and must reimburse his family for the cost of sending him to a private school.
Monday’s ruling represents the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, The Denver Post reported .
The Douglas County School District issued a statement saying it is “in the process of assessing the ruling, along with next steps.” The district said that regardless, it “will continue to support the learning and well-being of every student.”
The decision comes after the U.S. Supreme Court last year raised the standard for special education programs. The court said federal law requires public schools to offer special education programs that meet a higher standard than simply the bare minimum.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock said that once the Supreme Court elevated the previous standard to a higher standard of “markedly more demanding,” Douglas County’s efforts to provide the student with a special needs curriculum had been insufficient.
Jack Robinson, the attorney for the family, said costs for the student’s education will likely amount to a total “in the seven figures.” The student started attending Firefly Autism, a Denver school that specializes in working with children who have autism, in 2010 at a cost of about $70,000 a year.
“This is an enormous victory for all parents and all children with disabilities,” Robinson said.
The family did not disclose their last names in the suit. The student’s mother, identified as Jennifer, said that while the judge’s ruling was important to her and her family, it was the Supreme Court’s decision to raise the bar for special needs instruction in public schools that was critical on a wider level.
She said that ruling has already helped other families she knows who are trying to get a better education for their children with special needs.