Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects muscle control and, therefore, balance, posture, and coordination. Claire, then as now, was inordinately bright and outgoing, but she couldn’t walk; she used a wheelchair, and while the rest of the kids played during recess, her school thought it best to leave Claire on the sidewalk outside the playground—with the kids who were being punished for misbehaving. She was bullied and often came home in tears. In addition, the bathrooms lacked grab bars, so she sometimes fell onto the floor. She still fared better than some of the other disabled kids in the district, who would be left inside the classrooms during fire drills because the school lacked proper handicapped access. What the Frieses wanted was to make Claire’s school safer and more enjoyable for the disabled kids. But despite promises to help, Eanes ISD, one of the state’s wealthiest districts, always found a reason to refuse.
That is how Claire Fries, then twelve, ended up in an imposing law firm conference room, awaiting her deposition at the hands of the school district’s attorney, who was with the firm Rogers, Morris and Grover. Seated directly across from the superintendent, Claire was terrified that testifying would get her thrown out of school. The Frieses reached a settlement with Eanes in 2011, sometime after the Office for Civil Rights intervened. “Everything my kid needed cost about one hundred thousand dollars, and they ended up having to spend ten to twelve million dollars because I backed them into a corner, and they had to fix every school in the district,” Fries told me.