19 Focused on What Matters When the parents of T.B., a boy who is autistic and has a metabolic disorder, wanted him to attend a public school in the San Diego Unified School District, they knew he’d need a school nurse to administer his meals through his gastrointestinal tube. The school wouldn’t provide a nurse, and instead offered the family a monetary settlement to keep educating T.B. at home. When his parents rejected that offer, the case went to an administrative hearing, andT.B.’s parents prevailed. On appeal, the district court upheld that decision. T.B.’s parents then sought recovery of their attorneys’ fees, but the court said they were entitled to only 5% of the attorneys’ fees they owed. Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, also known as the IDEA, public schools must provide disabled children with free, appropriate public education, and parents who go to court to defend that right must be reimbursed for attorneys’fees if they prevail. When Paula Pearlman, executive director of the nonprofit Disability Rights Legal Center, heard thatT.B.’s parents were appealing the fee decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, she asked attorney Harvey Saferstein if Mintz Levin would write an amicus brief.“The case was an important one for the disability community,” says Harvey, a long-time member of the center’s board. “At issue was whether parents of a child with disabilities could be forced to take an accommodation solution that prevented the child from being mainstreamed with other school children.” Harvey worked with attorneys Abby O’Brient and Nada Shamonki to draft the brief on behalf of the Disability Rights Legal Center and the Learning Rights Law Center, and their brief was submitted in November 2012. “If the decision to deny full recovery of fees is allowed to stand, the court will essentially be saying, ‘you should have taken the money instead of fighting for a public school education,’” Nada says, and that attitude contradicts the intent of the IDEA. A decision to only partially reimburse attorneys’ fees would certainly discourage parents from fighting for their disabled children, Abby adds, saying,“There are families who can’t pursue their legal rights if they can’t afford the attorneys’fees.” Though a decision has not yet been issued, T.B.’s story does have a happy ending. His family eventually moved from California to Minnesota, where the local public school district readily provided all the accommodations the boy’s parents sought, including a school nurse to feed him through his gastrointestinal tube. T.B. is now in college. There’s no good reason, either pedagogically or legally, to segregate kids with disabilities. This case was particularly offensive for that reason. Mintz Levin’s amicus brief uses Brown v. Board of Education as the analogy, and the brief cites substantial research that shows that all students benefit from inclusion. Paula Pearlman Executive Director Disability Rights Legal Center Education for All Protecting the Rights of Disabled Children