Yakima -- After nearly three years of litigation, the Grandview School District has been ordered to pay for the private education of a nearly deaf student whose needs, according to two court rulings, the district fundamentally failed to address.
On Friday, Yakima County Superior Court Judge Robert Lawrence-Berrey signed a final ruling ordering the school district to pay for four years of private education for José Garcia, who attended the district from pre-school to 12th grade.
Lawrence-Berrey's ruling mostly upheld 2010 findings by a state administrative law judge, except that he cut the number of years of education the district must provide from six to four. The cost is estimated at nearly $1 million.
In an interview after the hearing, Lawrence-Berrey said he based his decision on progress the student has been making recently.
"I think the administrative law judge must have just pulled the six years out of the air somewhere," Lawrence-Berrey said. "It should have been based on what the student would have received if he was given a fair and adequate education at the district. And based on the progress he's making, four years will give him that."
School district Superintendent Kevin Chase said the judge's modification will save the district roughly $500,000 and shows that the administrative law judge may not have been fully accurate in his assessment.
"I think the school district prevailed," Chase said Friday in a telephone interview. "That doesn't excuse what the administrative law judge said, but it does show changes. It's a very complex case and there are a lot of nuances in it."
So far, Garcia, now 20, has received nearly two years of private education paid for by the district at a cost of about $250,000 a year, Chase said.
The case began when Garcia's mother, Maria Sanchez, learned from a school counselor when her son was a freshman that he would not graduate after his senior year.
Sanchez, illiterate and only able to speak Spanish, said at the time through her lawyer that she depended on the district to educate her son, and was surprised to learn he wouldn't be graduating. He regularly brought home As and Bs, according to court records. Later, she learned that he had been placed in special education classes and given work below his grade level.
Four years or six?
In January 2010, she filed a complaint with he state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which eventually led to the administrative law judge's ruling. After the school district appealed, the case wound up in Superior Court.
School districts receive federal funding to provide equipment and other needs for students with disabilities. Garcia is nearly deaf. He was born with sensorineural hearing loss, which is damage to the inner ear or the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain.
Now Garcia is talking about attending college. It's not clear if the four years of private education will be enough to set him on a path to do so, said one of his attorneys, Art Grant in Tacoma.
"Basically, the family has to decide whether they want to appeal," he said. "The district, there's a chance they might appeal."
Chase said the district is exploring all options, which are to file a motion for reconsideration, submit an appeal or seek a new trail.