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Practice Area Details

Students and Special Education

The Students and Special Education Issues practice group of Dannis Woliver Kelley is dedicated to helping school districts, county offices of education, special education local plan areas, and community colleges improve the lives of the students they serve through quality public education programs.  We recognize the importance of understanding the districts' obligations to all students, in addition to understanding particular obligations to students with disabilities, foster youth, homeless youth, and other special populations of students public schools serve.  This understanding and perspective enables us to provide practical, efficient, and result-oriented legal services that promote better outcomes for students and the schools that educate them.

Our group stays abreast of all legal developments across the state – past, present and future - so we can best assist you in accomplishing your mission to educate our country’s children, teens and young adults.  We strive to identify issues and address them early and efficiently.  We believe public school resources are best spent in the classroom and investing in our educators, educational programs, and students.  We are at the same time keenly aware of the need to resolve important issues and spend resources wisely with those outcomes in mind.  As attorneys who exclusively represent public schools, we are first and foremost dedicated to making sure we add value to your team and your mission.

We are also zealous advocates for public schools and the service they provide our students.  When necessary, we are poised to litigate important issues involving students and their educational programs, however, we place emphasis on preventive measures to ensure our clients avoid spending resources on litigation unnecessarily.  This is accomplished through our trainings and solid, reliable, and quickly available counsel that empowers administrators, teachers and staff to navigate difficult situations and provide better outcomes for students, without the need for litigation.

DWK serves over 200 school districts, SELPAs, county offices of education and community college districts.  With our unparalleled knowledge of California education law, we are best equipped to assist your district in a complete range of services, including:

  • Student rights and responsibilities
  • Student discipline
  • Student transfers
  • Student records
  • Uniform complaints
  • NCLB requirements and compliance
  • IDEA and Section 504 requirements, training and compliance
  • Mediations
  • Due process hearings and other administrative procedures and remedies
  • Federal and state court litigation
  • Interagency obligations and coordaintion: CDE, SBE, OCR, DOJ, OAH, OSEP
  • Constitutional rights and responsibilities
  • Foster and homeless youth rights
  • Parent rights and responsibilities
  • Charter school obligations and relations

Student issues often require on-the-spot answers. The breadth and depth of our knowledge and experiences allow our attorneys to often answer our clients' questions over the phone, without the need to spend hours researching and analyzing the issues first.  On a daily basis, we answer questions concerning everything from subpoenas for student records and inter-district transfer requests, the right of the district to search student lockers and backpacks for drugs and/or weapons, to discipline, First Amendment rights, and IEP planning.  Each year, we assist our clients in dozens of student discipline hearings and appeals to county offices of education.  We are well versed in the rights guaranteed students under state and federal constitutions, and we provide our clients with opinion letters regarding current, challenging student issues of the time.  We also anticipate problems before they arise, so as to assist the District in pro-actively addressing potential issues before they become a liability for the District.

Our extensive litigation experience has also allowed us to effectively represent our clients in administrative hearings and complaints with various agencies that oversee school district operations, state court, U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. We always strive to provide results-oriented and cost-effective strategies when faced with a decision whether to settle or litigate.

Representative cases include:

  • Achieved administrative and district court decisions, upheld by Ninth Circuit, establishing appropriateness of special day class programs offered by districts, such that nonpublic school placement was unnecessary at districts' expense.

  • Persuaded the District Court to uphold an administrative hearing decision in favor of a district, that a 16-year-old male student was not eligible for Special Education and that the district therefore was not responsible for reimbursement of tuition based on the district's alleged failure to identify the student as emotionally disturbed.

  • Obtained a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining a highly disruptive autistic student from attending a general education class. The court ordered the parents to place the student in an alternative interim placement offered by the district, pending a due process hearing.

  • Successfully established that a school district is not required to provide a special needs child with the same program received under the student’s Individualized Service Plan. 

  • Persuaded Federal Court of Appeals to hold that a gifted student with ADD and learning disabilities was not eligible for special education and related services under IDEA.

  • Achieved ruling in Federal District Court that school district and county office of education offered a free and appropriate public education to a physically impaired student and were not required to pay for the student’s private schooling.

Training and In-Servicing

Consistent with our commitment to preventative law, Dannis Woliver Kelley offers numerous forms of training for board members and administrators on the ever-increasing and dynamic issues affecting special education and student issues, such as:

  • Bullying Intervention & Prevention
  • Student and Special Education Think Tanks
  • Student and Special Education Law In-Services
  • Best Practices for IEPs: Process and Substance 
  • Student Discipline Workshops
  • A Legal Primer for Special Education Teachers, Specialists and Aides
  • Eligibility Criteria for Special Education
  • Due Process Hearing Procedures
  • A Special Education Primer for Board Members

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