Special Education Case Law Update – January 21, 2013
P.C. v. Milford Exempted Village Schools, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7477 (S.D. Ohio Jan. 17, 2013)
R.C. was identified as a child with a disability as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Specifically, R.C. was diagnosed with mixed expressive and receptive language disorders, mild cognitive impairment, and an IQ of 60, among other diagnoses. Pursuant to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), R.C. received reading services for his third through sixth grade years at privately-owned Langsford Learning Acceleration Center (Langsford). The parents and Milford Exempted Village Schools (Milford) were in agreement regarding R.C.’s IEP until February 2009, when Milford first proposed moving R.C. back to R.C.’s public home school. This dispute resulted in a settlement where R.C. would stay at Langsford with a increase in his daily reading instruction.
In May 2010, R.C.’s IEP team once again convened to develop his 7th grade IEP. However, R.C.’s parents allege that those discussions reached an impasse when it became apparent that Milford had “predetermined” R.C.’s return to his home school for reading services, though the team agreed on the rest of the IEP. Milford requested an impartial due process hearing in which it argued that placing R.C. in his home school would be the “least restrictive environment.” The hearing officer agreed that Milford’s proposed placement for reading provided a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment. R.C.’s parents appealed to a State Level Review Office who agreed with the hearing officer below. The parents then filed this complaint in federal court alleging Milford’s procedural and substantive violations of the IDEA.
Regarding the alleged procedural violations, the court agreed with the parents that the record supported their contention that Milford predetermined R.C.’s change of placement. The preponderance of the evidence showed that Milford staff did not approach the 2010 IEP meeting with an “open mind.” Most troubling to the court was testimony from one of R.C.’s teachers at Milford that Milford was prepared to “go the whole distance this year which means the [parents] will be forced into due process.” Consistent with this statement, the record showed that school members formed early opinions that R.C. should return to public school for reading services. While the court noted that school officials are permitted to form opinions prior to IEP meetings, in this case the record was clear that Milford officials became “impermissibly and deeply wedded to a single course of action: that R.C. not continue at Langsford.” This is a procedural violation under the IDEA.
While technical or procedural violation of the IDEA will not render an IEP invalid, the court found that R.C.’s parents were denied meaningful participation in the development of the IEP. Here, where R.C. had experienced reading success for over four years using the Lindamood-Bell method at Langsford, the court found that neither the parents nor the school could determine whether the IEP conferred a “meaningful educational benefit” without being able to compare potential methods to be used at the home school and how they would affect R.C.’s potential. However, this comparison was not possible because Milford refused to engage in a discussion regarding the methodologies to be used should R.C. not return to Langsford. The court noted that particular methodologies need not be specified in every student’s IEP. However here, where the difference between two methodologies could be so great that the lesser program could amount to a denial of a FAPE, the court found that the methodology for R.C.’s reading services should have been specified. Because Milford would not engage R.C.’s parents about the methods it proposed using should R.C. not return to Langsford., R.C.’s parents were denied meaningful participation in the development of the IEP. The federal court therefore reversed the decision of the State Level Review Officer. Further, because the court found Milford’s procedural violation of the IDEA resulted in substantive harm, the court declared the parents prevailing parties for the purpose of awarding parents their attorney’s fees and costs.
B.B. v. Lake Washington School District, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7412 (W.D. Wash. Jan. 17, 2013)
This matter came before the federal court on the arguments of B.B.’s parents that a Washington Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) incorrectly allowed the Lake Washington School District (District) to evaluate B.B. without the parental consent. For the reasons below, the federal judge agreed with the ALJ and rejected the parent’s challenges.
In the spring of 2011, B.B. obtained an Individualized Education Program (IEP) while attending public school in California. Shortly afterwards, B.B. moved into the District and B.B. parents were informed that B.B. would have to be evaluated to determine whether he qualified for services in Washington. The parents objected and refused to consent to an evaluation, arguing that an evaluation was not authorized by Washington law and was not in B.B.’s best interests given the process he had just gone through in California. The District initiated an administrative proceeding to compel the evaluation and the ALJ ruled in the parents’ favor. The parents’ filed an emergency stay in federal court, which was denied.
The parents challenge the constitutionality of Washington statute WAC 392-172A-03105(5) on the grounds that it is inconsistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) on the issue of requiring District evaluations of transfer students. The parents specifically argued that the Washington statute conflicts with the IDEA because it “directs” the District to conduct an evaluation of transfer students and, alternatively, that the statute gives to much discretion to the District by diluting any necessity requirement for a new evaluation. The court rejected these arguments, finding that the Washington statute generally tracked the IDEA in allowing the District to conduct an evaluation when the District concludes it is necessary to determine a child’s eligibility for services. The court additionally rejected the parents’ argument that Washington should be compelled to accept California’s eligibility and service determinations; the court held that simply because the IDEA is a federal statute does not require every state to administer the IDEA in the same way as long as each state meets the “basic floor of opportunity” for children required by the IDEA. Thus the fact that B.B. was receiving services in California does not automatically mean he was eligible for services in Washington. Further, even under the assumption that the District’s necessity determination must be reasonable, the court found the District’s evaluation request was reasonable given that the most recent evaluation in California found that B.B. was ineligible for IDEA services.
The parent’s also argued that the District should be bound to the special education services B.B. was receiving in California pursuant to a settlement agreement between the parents and the California district. The court held, however, that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution did not provide for enforcing these contractual obligations against the Washington District. For these reasons, the federal court held that the ALJ’s decision to override the parents’ lack of consent to authorize an evaluation was proper.
Petersen v. Mount Diablo Unified School District, et al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7320 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 16, 2013)
The parents of Michael and Ryan Petersen proceeded pro se (without an attorney) against a variety of defendants and the Mount Diablo Unified School District (District) regarding the District’s alleged denial of special education services to Michael and Ryan. The parents had previously filed multiple lawsuits against these defendants and others alleging a variety of claims in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007.
The parents claims in this suit arose from the same set of facts as the previous suits, the accommodations that Michael and Ryan received while attending District schools from 1998 -2003, and the federal court noted the related cases previously filed by the parents. The court dismissed the parents’ claims under the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court noted that the parents had either failed to prosecute, or had failed to amend complaints that had been determined inadequate, and that these claims had been dismissed in previous actions. These claims were therefore barred in this most recent action by the doctrine of res judicata.
Additionally, the parents alleged a claim for bribery and a claim under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Specifically on the bribery claim, the parents alleged that the District bribed staff with bonuses in exchange for reducing special education services to children. The court dismissed this claim as brought pursuant to statutes that did not provide for a private right of action. On the RICO claim, the court found the parents’ arguments to be a “tangled set of facts” that failed to state a plausible injury to “business or property” nor direct financial loss as required by RICO. The court granted the parents leave to file an amended RICO claim stating a plausible claim within two weeks. The remainder of the parents’ claims cited statutory language that was inapplicable to the case. The court therefore dismissed the parents’ claims except for the limited leave granted to amend the RICO claim.