Federal Appellate Court Reversed Class Action Certification and Settlement in Case Involving Alleged Violations of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

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In Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Public Schools, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed whether a federal district court should have certified a class of thousands of students who were allegedly not identified by the Milwaukee Public School’s (MPS) child-find procedures under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA or the “Act”). Under the IDEA, local districts are required to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities (a process known as “child-find”); evaluate these children’s specific needs; and develop individualized education programs (IEPs) tailored to each student’s specific needs.

The class action complaint filed against MPS and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) in the case alleged widespread violations of the IDEA relating to MPS’ implementation of the Act. The federal district court certified the following as the class: students eligible to receive special education from MPS who are, have been, or will be denied or delayed entry into or participation in the IEP process.

After a trial, the district court found MPS and DPI liable for various IDEA violations. DPI settled with the class by agreeing to order MPS to meet certain compliance benchmarks. Although MPS objected to the settlement, the district court approved the settlement and ordered a remedial scheme which required that MPS set up a court-monitored system to identify disabled students who were delayed or denied entry into the IEP process, implement “hybrid” IEP meetings, and to develop compensatory education remedies. MPS appealed the class certification and the approval of the settlement.

The Seventh Circuit heard the appeal and noted that district court may certify a case for class action treatment only if the following requirements are satisfied: (1) numerosity; (2) commonality; (3) typicality; (4) adequacy of representation; and (5) class must be sufficiently definite that its members are ascertainable.

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