Special Education Case Law Update – January 6, 2017

Posted on January 6, 2017

Sch. Dist. of Phila. v. Kirsch, No. 14-4910, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 168105 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 6, 2016)(private placement, even if it is not the placement in a Student’s most recent IEP is the student’s “then-current educational placement” once an administrative ruling validates it.)

Plaintiffs, A.K. and N.K., were first-grade students enrolled at a private school for students with autism in Philadelphia. The Hearing Officer who presided over the Due Process hearing issued judgment in favor of plaintiffs on some counts and the school district on others.

The main issue addressed by the Court was whether an administrative ruling validating the parents’ decision to move their child from an IEP-specified public school to a private school would make the private school the child’s “then-current educational placement” for purposes of the stay-put rule. The Court ruled that once the move to the private school has been endorsed by the state (in the form of the administrative ruling), it is no longer a unilateral action by the parents, and the child is entitled to “stay put” at the private school–at least through the duration of the resolution process, including further appeals. This is the case even if the Parents’ decision to move the child to private placement would be considered unilateral.

 

Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. Student, No. 14-35552, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 21635 (9th Cir. Dec. 5, 2016)(Student failed to prove that the School District failed to meet the procedural and substantive requirements of the IDEA. No denial of FAPE.)

Student challenged the district court’s reversal of the ALJ’s decision, claiming the district court did not give appropriate deference to the ALJ’s decision. The circuit court, however, agreed with the district court due to the fact that the ALJ’s decision relied heavily on certain evidence and law, but failed to consider the record as a whole or provide thorough analysis. The circuit court, therefore, considered the case de novo–or “from the beginning”–rather than deferring to the lower courts.

The Court found that the Student failed to meet the two-part test the 9th Circuit uses to determine the student was harmed by the School Districts action or inaction–a substantive and procedural test. In the most basic terms, the question is: what did the School District do or fail to do (substantive), and how did they do it (procedural)?

Substantively, the Student must prove that their IEP was not “reasonably calculated to enable [the Student] receive educational benefits.” To do so, a School District need not provide the “absolute best” education to the Student, but merely “a basic floor of opportunity…individually designed to provide an educational benefit.”

Procedurally, the Student must prove that the School District did not comply with the IDEA and that their failure to do so resulted in a “loss of educational opportunity or seriously infringe[d] upon the Parents’ opportunity to participate in formulating the Student’s IEP.”

The Court held that the Student failed on both counts and found that the Student’s IEP appropriately addressed her needs by providing concrete measurements of progress, a transition plan, and her goals and skills–both social and academic–and that there was no denial of a FAPE.

J.M. v. Dep’t of Educ., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166231(D. Haw. Dec. 1, 2016)(Stay-put at private school granted.)

J.M. is a 13-year-old on the autism spectrum. J.M. has a number of sensory issues as well as social concerns–including excessive bullying. Under the IDEA, J.M. is entitled to accommodations and specially designed instruction in social skills. J.M. was provided a one-on-one aide, however, due to persistent bullying, parents removed J.M. from his home school and placed in a private autism-focused school. The court found that J.M. was allowed to stay in the private school because his IEP denied him a FAPE and his learning opportunities were substantially restricted in that environment. Parents were also reimbursed for the cost of the private placement.

 

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