A federal judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit against Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools and the Virginia Department of Education that claimed the district and state violated civil rights protections for students with disabilities and their families.
Specifically, the lawsuit said hearing officers presiding over disputes between districts and parents ruled in favor of school systems at much higher rates than in other states. Filed last fall and expanded in January, the lawsuit also alleged failures to evaluate children with disabilities and to develop and amend individualized education programs.
In Northern Virginia, where Fairfax County is located, the plaintiffs said 83% of special education hearing officers had never sided with families in a case in the past 10 years. They also said Virginia parents had won fewer than 2% of nearly 1,400 due process cases over the last 20 years. The state education department oversees the hearing officer system.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of students with disabilities by Trevor and Vivian Chaplick, representing their child D.C., and Hear Our Voices, a nonprofit organization they started. The Chaplicks and Hear Our Voices did not return a request for comment by publication time.
U.S. District Judge Michael Nachmanoff said in the July 25 dismissal that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue. However, the judge added that a complaint from another plaintiff might "fare differently."
"This opinion should not be read as foreclosing a different plaintiff’s (or group of plaintiffs’) ability to pursue the claims at issue here," Nachmanoff said.
In a July 28 statement, Fairfax County Public Schools said, “FCPS appreciates the court’s careful consideration of the arguments presented and agrees with the dismissal of the lawsuit. FCPS remains committed to working with parents to provide students with disabilities an education that meets their needs."