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Witte v. Clark County School District: Key Points
by Pete Wright

The decision in Witte v. Clark County is important for several reasons.

1. "In 1998, without exhausting administrative procedures and requesting a special education due process hearing, Shawn and his mother filed suit in Federal Court."

Key Point:
This sentence tells you that although special ed procedures were not followed, the parent was not required to "exhaust administrative remedies." In most jurisdictions, the failure to exhaust would cause the case to be thrown out of court. In one sense, the Ninth Circuit reversed themselves because of their "Charlie F" ruling which they discuss in Witte.

2. The child and parent brought an action for compensatory and punitive monetary damages against the school district and three individuals, Robert Henry (program director), Beverly Minnear (principal of Variety School) and Woodard Macke (teacher) for violations of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and tort claims under state law.

Key Point:
Despite the fact that the child has a disability and was enrolled in a special education program, the decision does not mention the IDEA.

3. The District Court dismissed their action because they failed to exhaust administrative remedies under IDEA. The Ninth Circuit reversed.

Key Point
: The Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court's decison, finding that parents are not necessarily required to go through a due process hearing before bringing the school district into court for punitive damages. When you read the Court's logic and reasoning, and how they sidestepped their earlier decision, you see that law and facts do not control outcome. This case demonstrates the importance of drafting the pleadings so the judge wants to rule in your favor.

When I talked with Sara Winter, attorney in Witte, she advised that:

  • Eleven of school personnel were out of the school but not fired;
  • The Nevada legislature passed anti-aversive legislation;
  • It appears the school district knew about the abuse and condoned it.

    Issues about intimidation and retaliation are ongoing.

Note from Wrightslaw

Several files about this case are available on the Wrightslaw site:

Complaint in Witte v. Clark County Sch. (Mar 2, 1998)

Decision by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
(Dec 2, 1999)

Analysis of the Witte Case by Pete Wright (Dec. 16, 1999)

Original Wrightslaw Alert on Shawn Witte's case (Dec 3, 1999)

Update on Witte case (Dec 7, 1999)

Update #2 on Witte case (Dec 17, 1999)

2002 Decision by U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Sep 10, 2002)

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