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Legal Updates from KLO

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee Finds that Failure to Disclose a Teacher’s Credentials to a Parent Violated the IDEA.

Posted on October 28, 2022

Important takeaways: A school district violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when they did not disclose to the student’s parents that a teacher did not have a special education endorsement.

Facts: M.W. (the Student) was a fifteen-year-old student who attended school in the Loudon County School District (the District).  The Student had been diagnosed with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional-defiance disorder (ODD), and intellectual disability. In 2017, the Student entered fifth grade and was eligible for special education services under the IDEA under “intellectual disability” and “otherwise health impaired.” On September 27, 2017, an IEP for that school year was created, and the Student’s mother testified that she did not remember being at that meeting. On November 16, 2017, another IEP meeting was held, and the Student’s mother was in attendance. At this meeting, specifications of certain accommodations in classes were added. The student made progress toward her goals identified in this IEP but did not meet them.

In 2018, the Student entered sixth grade and Zachary Buchanan was the teacher to provide special-education services. Another IEP was created and the Student’s mother, along with advocate Jennifer Nagel, were at the meeting. This IEP included that the Student would continue to receive 240 minutes per day of services from a special education teacher in a special education setting. Buchanan signed the IEP as the special education teacher and the mother thought he was licensed to teach special education. At this time, Buchanan was not endorsed to teach special education. When Buchanan was hired, he told the District he was working on getting a provisional endorsement and attending graduate school to teach special education. No follow-up was done after his hire to see if the license had been obtained, and it never was. Buchanan resigned in 2019 and was replaced by Lesly Brown. All of the Student’s progress reports that year had indicated she was making improvement and likely to meet her goals.

In April 2019, there was another IEP meeting to develop another new IEP. At this meeting, the advocate pointed out that the Student’s math scores were the same as the previous year. In 2019, the Student started seventh grade in the District with teacher Jodi Smith. Her IEP included that she was to receive general education classroom time for 90 minutes a day but that did not happen for the first nine weeks of the school year. At a September 2019 IEP meeting, a Re-evaluation Summary Report was done which did not include the Student’s new ODD diagnosis and was missing some test results. The mother then filed a due-process complaint with TDOE alleging that the District was refusing to perform the Student’s eligibility evaluation and correct the report.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held that the mother had not shown the IEPs were insufficient and had not shown the Student was denied a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The ALJ also found that Buchanan’s teaching of the student without a special education endorsement constituted a procedural violation of the IDEA and impeded the mother’s opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. Lastly, he concluded that there was no denial of FAPE through lack of progress or insufficient monitoring of progress because there was no proof in the record that progress should have been made.

The issue was then appealed to federal district court. The Court agreed with the ALJ that Buchanan’s teaching of the Student without proper endorsement was a procedural violation and significantly impeded the mother’s opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. The District held him out as a special education teacher, which did not give the mother the chance to raise the issue of whether Buchanan should provide the special education instruction.

What this means: When preparing an IEP or working with parents regarding their children’s education in general, school districts should inform parents of the credentials that staff have. If an IEP requires a specific form of education and the employee providing the education does not have the proper credentials, the school may be violating the IDEA.

What is the name of the case and where you can read it: A.W. v. Loudon County School District, September 28, 2022.

As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Megan, Beth, and Kevin by email or at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.

Kaleva Law

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