Autistic boy wins settlement in N.J. school suit

Posted: December 14, 2011

The Moorestown Board of Education has voted to pay the family of an autistic teenager an undisclosed sum of money for legal fees and back tuition at a private school and to drop the school district's appeal of a special-education-access lawsuit brought by the family, according to the family and its attorney.

The settlement, reached through mediation ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, lets stand a federal District Court ruling that said the school district had erred in failing to provide the boy, who lives in the township, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) on the grounds that he wasn't enrolled in the local public schools.

John Comegno, who represents the district in the case, said the Moorestown school board approved the settlement Tuesday night. He declined to give specifics of the agreement.

Scott Duman, the student's father, said he didn't want give details of the settlement until he had it in official form.

"It seems like we're heading in the right direction," he said. "I hope in the future the Moorestown school district would stop spending money on litigation and spend money on (services for) kids."

In a September decision that experts say may have an impact on special-needs children beyond New Jersey, District Court Judge Renee Bumb ruled that the student, now 15, was entitled to a full IEP from district in past years even though his parents had taken him out of a district school and enrolled him in a private school.

An IEP is a document based on testing and other assessments in which a district sets forth its education goals for a special-needs student and the services it will provide to help the student reach those goals.

The parents wanted the IEP because they were interested in exploring the possibility of reenrolling their son with the district. However, they did not want to risk losing the boy's place in the private school he then attended, Orchard Friends School, if a satisfactory arrangement could not be struck with the Moorestown schools.

The district's position was that, given the boy's enrollment status, he qualified for a different, lesser level of evaluation and service plan.

An earlier state court decision also stated that the boy should have been provided an IEP. The district had appealed both decisions.

The three-year-long case was costly for the family and the district. Duman estimated his family incurred about $240,000 in legal and other fees and spent about $111,000 on tuition.

Comegno said Moorestown spent about $150,000 on its legal fees. He said his firm provided another $125,000 in legal services free of charge.

As a result of the litigation, the boy eventually was provided an new IEP from the district, and the district is paying for him to attend the Y.A.L.E. School in Cherry Hill, for students with social or learning disabilities.


Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841, rgiordano@phillynews.com or on Twitter @ritagiordano.

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