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Law would limit school district litigation

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Here’s news out of the House of Representatives:

Legislation that would discourage “abusive and frivolous” lawsuits by schools districts passed out of the House of Representatives today and now heads to the Senate.

House Bill 2160, by State Rep. Jason Nelson, would require school districts to pay students’ and parents’ court costs and attorney fees when they initiate civil action or proceedings against students or parents.

“We saw a disgusting abuse of power when the leaders of Jenks and Union schools targeted the parents of special-needs children with a completely bogus lawsuit that could only be understood as an intimidation tactic,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “I’ve visited with numerous people who shudder at the idea of a school district suing parents. These two districts eventually lost the case upon appeal with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, but it still angers me that they put these families through such an ordeal. The only thing that the parents could have been guilty of was doing what they thought was best for their child with special needs.”

The Jenks and Union school boards voted to sue the state attorney general to challenge the successful Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act. They never filed that lawsuit, but instead, without ever specifically voting to do so, sued parents who legally obtained scholarships through the new program.

“These two school boards had earlier voted to ignore the new State law and later voted to sue the attorney general to get their question in front of a judge,” Nelson said. “When that didn’t work they sued the parents without ever voting to do so specifically. They left that decision to the school superintendent and the school’s law firm. They didn’t even have the courage to vote in a board meeting to sue parents – it was shameful.”

Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships allow a student with a disability (such as Down syndrome or Autism) who has an individualized education program (IEP) to receive state-funded scholarships to attend a private school that parents believe can better serve their child. The scholarships come from the amount of money already designated for the education of those children.

Nelson said his legislation would deter schools from filing such lawsuits, which are inappropriate because schools serve the public and should not be persecuting students and parents.

“I never doubted that the lawsuit was inappropriate and the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling confirmed that a school board should not be suing parents. My bill says that if a school district sues parents again, they will have to pay the court and attorney costs,” Nelson said.

HB 2160 passed out of the House by a vote of 55-37. The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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Carrie Coppernoll

Carrie Coppernoll is a columnist and reporter. She was named the top personal columnist in Oklahoma in 2009 and 2010 by the Associated Press and Association of Newspaper Editors. She was also named the 2008 Journalist of the Year by the Oklahoma... Read more ›