The Denver lawyer behind a landmark special education case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court will be honored in November by a national disability rights group.
Jack Robinson, of the law firm Spies, Powers & Robinson, will receive the Legal Advocate of the Year award from The Arc, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Robinson represented the family of an autistic boy in a case known as Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. After a yearslong legal battle, the Supreme Court decision delivered a momentous ruling in 2017 that raised the standard schools must meet in educating students with disabilities. Advocates hailed the decision for its potential impact on millions of students across the country.
Robinson, who said in a statement that he’s worked with many Colorado chapters of The Arc, called the national recognition humbling.
The Arc will fete Robinson and five other honorees at an awards ceremony Nov. 9. Others include the fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, who created a clothing line adapted for people with disabilities; a restaurant group that regularly employs people with disabilities; and a nonprofit that promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in the fashion industry.
“These award winners are unique in their accomplishments, but unified by their tireless pursuit of inclusion,” Peter Berns, chief executive officer of The Arc, said in a statement.
Robinson has worked in special education law for years, but Endrew F. became a particularly high-profile case with far-reaching significance.
Nearly a decade ago, the parents of Endrew F. pulled the fourth-grader out of his Douglas County elementary school after years with little educational progress. They placed him at a specialized school in Denver — Firefly Autism House — where they saw immediate improvements. Tuition at the school is more than $70,000 a year.
In 2011, Endrew’s parents filed a lawsuit against the district asking to be reimbursed for the cost of his private education. Three courts ruled against them before they took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2017. Less than three months later, the court released a unanimous ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts.
Robinson called it a “game-changer.”
The ruling soundly rejected the old educational standard for students with disabilities, saying it allowed instruction that aimed so low it was tantamount to sitting idly until students were old enough to drop out. The court said schools needed to aim higher.
Last spring, just over a year after the Supreme Court ruling, the Douglas County School District paid Endrew’s parents a $1.32 million settlement.