MPS ordered to pay $450,000 in legal fees in special ed class action case

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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Milwaukee Public Schools must pay just more than $450,000 to the legal staff representing plaintiffs in a class-action suit over how the district serves students with special needs, a federal judge has ordered.

The order Friday followed a ruling in June that MPS must do more for special needs students, including assessments for children who might need services and interventions for students who have a high number of suspensions and for those who have failed a grade.

This is the most recent order in the continuing saga (beginning in 2001) of MPS and its “denial of entry or delayed entry or participation in the process…” of those students eligible for special education services.

Read more about Jamie S. v. MPS: the chronology of this class action case, the history of MPS’s failure to comply with IDEA, and the remedies and sanctions ordered by Judge Goodstein. Case Updates.

Major concerns were expressed in the case about students being suspended rather than evaluated and identified as eligible for special ed services. MPS says they have improved, although a report for the last school year indicates MPS may have the highest suspension rates in the country. Do we know how many of these were students needing services?

The Journal Sentinel has been closely following this case. “Still ahead is a trial in November on issues such as whether MPS might be required to provide compensatory damages to anyone who was denied adequate special education in 2000, the starting point for the lawsuit.” Stay tuned!

  1. We found an attorney that used to teach, how cool is that. What about contacting a university law school for referral to someone who may be able to help. We are moving to Alabama and already found an attorney on line as mentioned above. She will review the case and is so confident she will get a positive outcome she will not charge if she looses. If she wins she goes after fees from the school district.

    However, there is mediation, prior written notice, due process and sometimes a response process to go through first. You need to check out the Stated Dept of Education and get the Spec Ed Process Codes and read them. They will tell you how to work a dispute and how the system works for your state. In the mean time some agencies can provide help through Childrens Dept – Easter Seals Comes to mind.

    The State and LEA have legal obligation to ensure your child is educated even if the district has to contract, outsource, or send child to another district that can while paying transportation costs.

    I am not a lawyer, but have been advocating for my son for 10 years and am completing a M. Ed. in Spec Ed. Children teach us how to reach and teach them.

    This advice is simply what I have used to effectively advocate for my son and each situation will be different – but you are not alone.


  2. After reading this article, I’m beginning to rethink my position against suing a school system. My own son has been denied an education for going on two weeks now, and is being denied his IEP services. School has been in two weeks, he is Autistic, and they will not allow him to attend classes in the school district, nor will they provide the services as stipulated in his IEP. Any suggestions as to finding a good lawyer?

  3. 7David,

    Two Davids are better than just one. I will change to David1. Prior to the 7David on this post, David1 and David are the same.

    What sort of issue is being made of Special Education in your district? Is the board is aware that compliance of IDEA or ADA seems to be optional?

    Can you elaborate on what a candidate is/does? What is the value/meaning of an endorsement?

    I agree with Pam about meeting with Board members to offer a snapshot of the issues before the Administrators and school district Attorney wordsmith their report.

    We spoke with a School District Board member who then called the District Office for more information.
    Documentation was hand delivered to the board member’s office and some discussion occurred.

    This made things more difficult in my son’s educational situation. If you graphed written communications to us from school district staff, it would create some sort of abstract work of art.

    Good luck in your efforts to help your school district work towards the goal of compliance of IDEA and ADA Law. This will give our kids an opportunity that should have never been taken from them in the first place.

  4. I cannot agree with Pam more. We have bene involved in setting up candidate nights on special education issues, meet and greets with candidates etc. It is not only about running for School Board- but standing up and making special education an issue. Indeed, candidates are now coming to us and asking for endorsements – and finailly our board is beginning to pay attention children with disabilities.

  5. David:

    I understand that you and your wife are swamped and disenchanted with the school system. In the U.S., school districts are operated by school boards. Most school board members work in other fields. They are uninformed about educational matters so they depend on individuals within the system – usually school administrators – to provide information and advice.

    Parents need to understand how the system works. Once they know this, they can begin to educate their school board members. Many of Pete’s clients ran for school board after their child’s case was resolved because they realized that’s where important decisions are made. Most people don’t want to sit on a school board, don’t have time, or the disposition to sit on a board. But we can “meet and greet” our school board members. We can invite them to breakfast or lunch, educate them about issues that are of concern to us. This strategy has been used successfully in many school systems.

    Bottom line: Until we get off our collective backsides and provide school board members with reliable information, our schools are unlikely to change. It doesn’t take an army to change systems – it does take a small number of determined people. ~ Pam

  6. Debbie

    For the past four years, our time has been committed to working with our school district to obtain educational services for our son.

    Between monthly IEP meetings with their attorney present, my wife working full time as a highly qualified certified teacher in the same school district, our extra time is pretty scarce. About 28 hours per week was reserved for my wife to provide my son’s educational instruction with no financial pay. After 560 days of providing these services and the weekly updates, the school district felt like they should contribute something to my son’s education and provided a tutor for two of those hours per week. Never withdrawn.

    Our district was pretty good about compiling the weekly reports that my wife was giving them and sending us progress reports that let us know how our son was doing while mom provided his “Free Education”.

    I suspect that our school district does not have my son’s best interest in mind and I suspect it would be very difficult to justify the amount of money spent on their attorney vs. educational benefits provided to my son.
    This is a case of a shield being used as a weapon.

  7. I have been troubled and angry that my now 16 year old son who’s been identified as a spec. ed. student with an IEP who has been suspended several times and was finally expelled from the district which determined his disability (ADHD/ODD) had no bearing on his behavior which caused his expulsion. I guess I should have hired legal help?

  8. David: As you probably know, when a case is over, assuming parents prevail, they are entitled to reimbursement for their legal fees. While negotiating about reimbursement, we get their billing statements. On average, school district attorneys charge at least twice as much as parent/child attorneys. This is useful information when negotiating reimbursement of fees.

    Many parents are angry at attorneys who won’t take their cases “pro bono” (free) or on a contingency. I don’t think they realize that attorneys struggle with the same issues they do – making a living, paying expenses, supporting their families.

    The sad fact is that many good attorneys leave the field because they can’t make a living in this field. Attorneys who continue to take special ed cases often take cases in other areas – family law, domestic relations, etc. – to pay the rent (so to speak).

    The Milwaukee Public School class action case has been going on for years. Although the judge has ruled against MPS many times, they still have not changed their ways. The Milwaukee school system is believed to have the highest suspension / expulsion rates and highest dropout rates in the country.

    And Milwaukee taxpayers (unknowingly) pay the school’s district’s fees. ~ Pam

  9. David, The district lawyer drives away in the Mercedes anyway. No purpose in worrying about it. I served on a BOE for 3 years (a wonderfully rewarding experience). In many districts, few people really understand the budget process. It is not set up in a transparent way.

    A BOE may make decisions based on recommendations of the lawyer who has the greatest financial stake in the process- who says to settle a case will “throw open the gates,” that many other families will “want the same thing,” or will “move into town just to get those services”. I have not seen this happen. Even when a district is “known” to have a great program, I have not found any family who moves simply for the services.

    To understand more about your district, attend BOE meetings. It may seem tedious, but hang in there. Listen to the presentations and discussions. Get an understanding of the workings behind the scenes. If you think you can commit the time, consider membership on a community committee, or run for a Board seat. Having parents who ask questions about special education systems, and about budget systems is vitally important to true community governance of the school.

  10. $450,000 in legal fees really gets our attention. The scary part is that this is the amount of money that the parents of special education children have paid. In some cases, they located a lawyer who still has a conscience (No offense intended for Pam and Pete), and charged them a reduced rate in the name of helping their child.

    My point is this; the law firms that represent the school district’s likely charge more to represent the school than the parents are paying. Even assuming the rate is the same, there is an injustice to our kids being done by only making the public half aware of a serious misuse of public education funds.

    I like the part about the Judge ruling that MPS must do more for Special Education.

    Back when Starskie & Hutch was the closest thing to reality t.v. , Congress inacted a really great IDEA that was intended to do more for our Special Education students.

    School District’s are allowed to secretly devote “educational funds” into an account and use it for legal expenses. At the same time we are shocked to see a large ruling like, their attorney is driving away in our kid’s educational Mercedes.

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