On July 22, 2016, the Summit Board of Education (Union County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $47,500 to be paid to the parents of a teenager who brought suit against the school district under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In their suit, the parents, who are identified only by their initials, claimed that the school district did not provide sufficient behavioral support services for their teenage son who “engaged in severe maladaptive behaviors.”  The parents claim that although an Administrative Law Judge gave them the “full measure of substantive relief they sought,” a federal lawsuit was needed to obtain “reimbursement of the attorneys’ fees and costs of litigation expended in connection with the matter.”

In the settlement agreement, “the Board denie[d] Plaintiffs were the prevailing party in the Administrative Matter and denies all liability to Plaintiffs” and noted that the $47,500 payment was desired by both the Board and its insurer to resolve the matter.

The case is captioned S.B and E.B. o/b/o J.B. v. Summit City Board of Education, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-0713 and the parents’ attorney was Ira M. Fingles of Lawrenceville.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of the parents’ allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Summit or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the parents $47,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Board of Education, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]