Special Education Case Law Update — Week of February 28, 2011

Posted on March 7, 2011

Ruben A. v. El Paso Indep. Sch. Dist., 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 3906 (5th Cir. Tex. Mar. 1, 2011)

In this case, the school district filed a counterclaim to the Parents’ action more than 90 days after the date of the hearing officer’s final decision.  The district court ruled that the counterclaim was time-barred and dismissed the school district’s claim.  The issue on appeal was whether the IDEA’s statute of limitations barred the counterclaim. The 5th Circuit found that the district court erroneously relied on a case that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had reversed. The Third Circuit found that because the IDEA’s statute of limitations under 20 U.S.C.S. § 1415(i)(2)(A), (B), only limited a party’s right to “bring an action” to within 90 days after the final administrative decision, the plain language of the statutory text did not limit a party’s right to pursue a counterclaim because the assertion of a counterclaim was not “bringing an action.”   The Court held that the district court erred in dismissing defendant’s counterclaim as time-barred.

Dep’t of Educ. v. T.G., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20716, 6-7 (D. Haw. Feb. 28, 2011)

In this case, it was undisputed that notwithstanding the school district’s receipt of the parents’ Request for Impartial Hearing on a date certain, the school district failed to ensure that a timely resolution session and due process hearing occurred and a timely decision issued.  The Hearings Officer ruled that the school district’s failure to provide a timely due process hearing was not an unimportant or technical violation of the procedural safeguards provided for in the IDEA, but rather a “denial of a fundamental component of the due process protections afforded by the statute.  As a result, the Hearings Officer ruled in favor of the parents, concluding that “the failure to convene a timely resolution session, hold a timely due process hearing, and ensure that a timely decision was issued to the parties resulted in a denial of FAPE.”  The Hearings Officer awarded the parents reimbursement for the costs of placement at a private school for the 2009-2010 school year as well as for related expenses. The Hearings Officer also awarded the parents reimbursement for the costs of providing T.G. with a FAPE until such time as the school district made a FAPE available.  The district court reveresed finding that while the school district’s failure to hold a timely resolution session and due process hearing were procedural violations, the procedural violations did not result in a substantive violation of the IDEA or a substantive denial of a FAPE.

James M. v. State, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18946 (D. Haw. Feb. 25, 2011)

James M. is a nineteen-year-old student who has been diagnosed with dysarthia and hypotonia.  He has been eligible for special education and related services under the category of Autism since 1999.  The Hearings Officer held a four-day due process hearing where he received testimony from over fifteen witnesses, including private and public teachers, administrators, and educational consultants. Following the hearing, the parties submitted closing briefs.  The Hearings Officer concluded that the school district offered James M. a FAPE and that the parents were not entitled to reimbursement for their private school expenditures.  On appeal, the parents argued that the school district violated both their procedural and substantive rights under the IDEA. With respect to procedure, the parents contended that the school district failed to provide the parents with a meaningful opportunity to participate in the formulation of their child’s IEP. With respect to substance, the parents argued that the IEPs of April 24, 2009 and September 17, 2009 failed to sufficiently address James M.’s academic, developmental, and functional needs. Specifically, the parents claimed the following deficiencies: (1) insufficient speech language therapy; (2) inadequate provision of one-on-one paraprofessional services; (3) absence of direct occupational therapy services; (4) absence of a transition plan; and (5) absence of mental health therapy.  The district court affirnmed the hearing officer’s decision finding that the IEPs provided the student a FAPE.

By Jack Robinson

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