By Kelli Gauthier
An appeals court in Cincinnati has upheld a 2006 ruling in favor of the Hamilton County Department of Education regarding a nine-year-old special education lawsuit, school officials confirmed Wednesday.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a ruling by now-senior U.S. District Court Judge R. Allan Edgar that Hamilton County Schools provided Zachary Deal, a student with autism, an appropriate public education.
"The Deals alleged that the system was not providing a free and appropriate public education, and we disagreed," said Danielle Clark, Hamilton County Schools spokeswoman. "The court affirmed that we were providing that."
The case dates back to 1999 when the school system refused to implement the specific educational program requested by Zachary's parents, Phillip and Maureen Deal. School officials said at the time that settling the case, in which the district spent nearly $3 million defending itself, would have set a precedent allowing all parents of children with disabilities the option to choose the program they wanted.
Attempts to reach the Deal family Wednesday evening were unsuccessful.
Since 1999, rulings for both sides of the case were appealed multiple times to federal, circuit and supreme courts. Because the circuit court decided Hamilton County had committed certain procedural violations, Judge Edgar in 2006 awarded the Deal family $240,000 in attorney fees, one quarter of what they were asking for, and $25,000 in compensatory education, half of the amount they requested, said Scott Bennett, the school system's attorney.
School board member Janice Boydston said the district had been dealing with the case for a long time, and she hoped it finally was settled.
"It's good that they have upheld the federal judge's ruling. I'm glad of that," she said. "I'm hoping this puts it to rest now."
Mr. Bennett said the Deal family now has two legal options: ask for all 15 judges in the Sixth Circuit to hear the case together or appeal the most recent decision with the U.S. Supreme Court.
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The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati affirmed a prior ruling in favor of the Hamilton County Department of Education regarding a 1999 lawsuit filed on behalf of an autistic student. The court affirmed that the Hamilton County Schools system had provided Zachary Deal with a free and appropriate public education that gave him meaningful benefit. The Deal family had alleged the district did not provide their son with an appropriate public education given his disability.