Lawsuit Defending Students with Disabilities Against Fairfax County Public Schools Successfully Settles

A civil rights lawsuit against Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), which was brought by FH+H Partner Kevin Byrnes and attorneys at Brown, Goldstein & Levy, reached a settlement and marked a major victory for parents seeking to enforce the rights of school children with disabilities. 

As part of the settlement, FCPS, which is the 10th largest school division in the U.S., agreed to ban all seclusion practices and sharply limit the use of physical restraint practices by the 2022-2023 academic year. 

“FCPS’s new policies recognize that the needs of students and the school system are bound together in a common purpose to foster the education, advancement, and maximization of learning and growth potential for all students, including those with disabilities,” the plaintiffs said in a statement. 

FH+H attorney Mr. Byrnes helped file the lawsuit in October 2019 on behalf of six student minors with varying disabilities, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), and Communication FIRST. The suit alleged that FCPS disproportionally used physical restraint and seclusion toward students of disabilities, causing these students to experience discrimination, psychological trauma, and physical harm. 

In a report to the federal government, FCPS claimed it had not used these tactics from 2013 to 2017; however, one plaintiff — a 13-year-old, non-verbal student with autism — was restrained and secluded more than 700 documented times by the school’s staff during that period. The students experiencing such punishments were as young as five years old. 

“These are voices of individuals who are vulnerable and are usually not heard,” Jennifer Tidd, a parent involved in the lawsuit, said in a Washington Post article. “And I think that when they’re heard — when they’re accommodated appropriately — things like restraint and seclusion don’t have to happen.” 

As a result of the settlement, which provided both monetary and injunctive relief, FCPS will end seclusion and restraint will only be allowed in life-threatening and emergency situations. Further, the use of mechanical, chemical, prone, supine, and chokehold restrains are now banned in all FCPS schools. 

Additionally, the district must initiate comprehensive training to implement new strategies for prevention and better addressing of behavioral crises. FCPS must also begin providing quarterly reports with incident data as well as on the implementation of its revised training. 

Mr. Byrnes served as co-counsel on the case, working with Jessie Weber and Gina Kline of Brown, Goldstein and Levy. The staff of FH+H also provided invaluable assistance in the logistics of the suit. 

Note: Case results depend on a variety of unique factors and do not guarantee or predict similar results for future cases. 

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