GRANDVIEW — The Grandview School District has settled a federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of a deaf student for $1 million, attorneys for the student announced Tuesday.
Jose Garcia was basically “warehoused” in special education classes even though he was hearing impaired, not developmentally delayed, Seattle attorney Karen Koehler said in a news release about the settlement, which she called a record in an educational deprivation case.
“What happened to Jose Garcia was hideous,” Koehler said in a Tuesday telephone interview. “We’re supposed to take our children (to schools) and trust them with the privilege of educating our youth, and they just absolutely failed.”
The school district, which fought the case in both state and federal court, denied it deprived Garcia of an education.
“I feel like we did a good job for the plaintiff,” Superintendent Kevin Chase also said in a Tuesday telephone interview. “I think our educators worked really hard for him.”
The case began in 2010, when Garcia’s mother learned that her son wouldn’t graduate with his class. She filed a complaint with the state Office of Superintendent of Pubic Instruction, and the case went before an administrative law judge. Ruling in favor of Garcia, Judge Matthew Wacker of Seattle ordered the district to provide him with six years of private education after finding that the district had given Garcia work below his grade level, rather than adequately addressing his hearing problem.
The district appealed Wacker’s decision in Yakima County Superior Court, where Judge Robert Lawrence-Berry mostly upheld the ruling, but reduced from six to four the number of years the district would have to provide Garcia with private education.
Garcia, now 22, is expected to graduate in November, and was allowed to walk with the 2015 class last month.
The case, including the recent settlement, has cost roughly $2.3 million. But the school district won’t be on the hook for all of it. The district’s insurance provider will cover the entire cost, including the settlement, of the federal case.
The settlement was large, according to the district’s insurance provider, Clear Risk Solutions in Ephrata.
“For the type of case this was, it was a pretty big settlement,” said claims director Dave Kosa.
Nonetheless, the district managed to secure a state grant to pay for half the roughly $1 million cost of providing Garcia four years of private education. Grandview also is appealing the $470,000 in attorney fees awarded to Garcia’s attorneys in the state case.
Despite the roughly $850,000 paid out — about $440,000 in attorney fees for the district and more than $400,000 in private education for Garcia — Chase said the federal case didn’t prove any wrongdoing on the district’s part. He contends information that was allowed into the federal case but not reviewed by Wacker showed teachers did everything they could to educate Garcia.
“No one has admitted any liability on either side. By settling this, we’re not admitting any wrongdoing and the plaintiff recognizes that,” Chase said.
However, Koehler disagrees with Chase’s assessment.
“They lost every single appellate process they brought,” she said. “The only thing that’s left is their appeal of attorney fees.”
OSPI is keeping a close eye on the district, and it monitored the school’s operations this past year, said spokesman Nathan Olson in Olympia.
“We do additional looks at districts when there are warning signs,” he said.
When the district first appealed Wacker’s ruling and refused to provide Garcia private education, OSPI threatened the local educators with the loss of federal Individual Disability Education Act funds.
The Garcia case isn’t the only controversy over educating students with special needs in Grandview. Last year, OSPI ordered the district to provide summer school to 50 special-needs students after determining the students didn’t get enough individual instruction.