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CCSD loses another lawsuit over special education program

In the latest in a series of courtroom losses over its special education program, a federal judge has ordered the Clark County School District to pay more than $450,000 to a prominent Las Vegas couple for failing to prepare an adequate study plan for their dyslexic daughter.

In a 24-page ruling filed last week, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Boulware II ruled that the school district violated the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act “both substantively and procedurally” by failing to ensure that the student receive instruction using a specific teaching method developed for students with dyslexia.

He ordered the school district to reimburse the girl’s family $456,990.60 for private school tuition and transportation costs.

The ruling came on an appeal of a case filed in federal court in 2017 by Sig Rogich, a prominent Republican political consultant, and Las Vegas attorney Lori Rogich. The student, identified in court records as “O.R.,” is the couple’s now 19-year-old daughter, who is studying to become a child life specialist at the University of Utah.

“We’re ecstatic about the decision,” Hillary Freeman, an attorney who represented the Rogich family along with co-counsel Catherine Reisman, said Monday. “I think that’s an understatement.”

The school district didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

In his ruling, Boulware said the family had presented “compelling professional evidence” that their daughter required a specific “teaching methodology” known as the Orton-Gillingham Approach.

Family’s concerns ignored

But the school district didn’t adequately review professional evaluations of the Rogiches’ daughter and didn’t meaningfully consider the family’s concerns, he found.

The Rogiches also weren’t provided information about any programs the school district could provide that would adequately address their daughter’s needs, Boulware wrote.

Lori Rogich told the Review-Journal on Monday that she gives great credit to her daughter for having the courage to stand up and fight for her rights.

She said her daughter graduated from high school — “something that the school district believed she wouldn’t do.”

Rogich declined to disclose the name of her daughter, who graduated from Purnell School, a private school in New Jersey, and was accepted to seven colleges across the country.

Rogich said her daughter is thrilled by her victory in court, feeling that her hard work navigating the judicial system will benefit other students.

The attorneys for the Rogich family argued that by refusing to provide methodology for Rogich’s daughter in her Individualized Education Program (IEP), the school district was discriminating against her.

Freeman, the Rogiches’ lawyer, said there’s an array of research showing that students who have a learning disability require structured literacy interventions. For a school district to just say they’ll figure it out as they go along is not acceptable, she said.

If the Rogich family had gone along with that, it could have impacted their daughter’s ability to learn how to read over the long term, Freeman said.

‘Multiple developmental delays’

O.R. has a history of “hydrocephalus at birth,” a buildup of fluid in the brain, and “multiple developmental delays,” according to court documents.

A team from the school district evaluated her in 2007, when she was 5, and recommended she attend an early childhood special education program for the rest of the school year, the documents show.

She was withdrawn from the district programming in spring 2008 and instead attended private schools, including the Adelson Educational Campus in Las Vegas.

The girl’s parents requested re-evaluation of their daughter from the school district in 2014 and 2016 to determine her eligibility for special education services.

But on both occasions, the school district failed to provide an appropriate public education “as evidenced by the inadequacy” the IEPs that the district produced, the decision states. Those plans didn’t identify “a specific methodology or program or structured curriculum format that teachers were obligated to utilize in meeting O.R.’s unique needs,” it noted.

John Filler, a special education professor at UNLV, said issues over compliance with the disabilities act and interpreting its requirements are “not uncommon” at school districts around the country.

The federal law is comprehensive and says every student must be provided with a “free appropriate public education” regardless of the nature or severity of their disability, he said, noting he was not commenting on the specifics of the Rogich case.

The federal mandate is also promulgated in Nevada law, Filler said, noting state laws across the country may vary but can’t be in conflict with the federal law.

The problem that comes up with many school districts is the requirement for educating students who have disabilities is stricter and more individualized than for the average student who isn’t eligible, Filler said.

The general requirement is any school district must use research-based methods that have some basis in best practices to meet a student’s individual needs, he said.

Generally, a family and school district are expected to reach some agreement, as exemplified in an IEP, he said.

But there’s plenty of room for disagreement, Filler said, noting there are procedures for resovling those disagreements so hopefully they don’t have to rise to the level of formal legal action.

A litany of special ed cases

The Clark County School District has faced a number of other lawsuits filed by special education parents over the years.

An August 2020 class-action lawsuit filed in federal court by six families of special education students also alleged that the school district failed to provide an adequate education for their children during distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That case is still pending.

The school district has also settled other lawsuits in recent years that were filed by parents alleging that their special education students were abused by teachers or other school staff.

Last year, the school district paid more than $1.8 million to settle two lawsuits involving a teacher who was accused of abusing special education students.

In 2019, the district also approved a $1.2 million settlement to three families who filed a lawsuit alleging a different special education teacher abused their children during the 2014-15 school year.

In February, mothers of three students who have special needs at Thiriot Elementary School filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging a teacher used a yardstick to punish their children in 2019. The case is still pending.

Other lawsuits include one filed by a parent in June 2020 in Clark County District Court against the school district after her child, who has an intellectual disability, disappeared from her middle school campus for four days in 2018.

In a 2018 lawsuit, a mother alleged a district employee broke her autistic son’s wrist.

Online court records show the cases were closed after being “transferred (before trial).” No other information on the cases was immediately available on Monday.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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