Imposing money damages on schools for violations of IDEA rights and other violations is far from easy. Parents are often dismayed to learn that very blatant and egregious violations of their rights will not support an action for damages. Failing to provide services, prompt evaluation or implementation of the IEP are all bad, and can result in a hearing officer ordering compensatory education and reimbursement to the parents for relevant out of pocket expenses, but not damages. To reach the level where a court will allow a case for monetary damages to go forward the facts must be "shocking to the conscience."
A tragic recent case from Detroit Michigan unfortunately helps illustrate what facts are shocking to the conscience. (See Shinn v. Detroit Public Schools, 09-13799, February 2, 2011 Download 4924_0001) A paraprofessional working with a student with CP and a seizure disorder berated the child, caused her to fall and have a seizure. A witness stated that as the paraprofessional pushed the child she yelled "you know I don't like you." The child died a few days later following the incident.
Usually there are no witnesses who are willing to step up and testify, and the facts of these cases are not so lopsided. Too often there is an element of "he/she had it coming" when a student is injured at the hands of a staff member. Cases where the court allows the case to go ahead are infrequent, albeit the number of students being injured in school unfortunately is not.