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Montana IDEA Case Spolight: Post-secondary plans of students with disabilities 18 and over

August 17, 2020

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By: Lily Crespo Esq.

A case originating in Montana recently asked if a school should be held liable for procedural violations of FAPE – the 9th circuit said ruled that Districts are not liable for procedural violations of FAPE that have no impact on the student’s learning or the parent’s participation. In a case from May of this year, the Ninth Circuit addressed the several claims that a 24-year-old with multiple disabilities, including autism and ED, and his caregiver originally brought in a due process hearing specific to his IEPs in grades 11 and 12.

What happened to spur this case?

In Butte School District No. 1 v. C.S. (2020), the Ninth Circuit addressed the several claims that a 24-year-old with multiple disabilities, including autism and ED, and his caregiver originally brought in a due process hearing specific to his IEPs in grades 11 and 12. In March of his 11th grade, C.S. reached the age of 18 and moved to live with his caregiver. At that time, because C.S. lacked the capacity for informed consent, the caregiver sought appointment as his educational representative; however, the district appointed a surrogate parent. At the end of grade 12, C.S. refused the district’s offer of ESY and compensatory education, insisting instead on graduation. A year after graduation, C.S. and his caregiver filed for a due process hearing. The hearing officer ruled that the district provided FAPE in C.S.’s senior, but not his junior, year, and awarded him compensatory education for that denial. Upon both sides’ appeal, the federal district court concluded that it lacked authority to order C.S. to participate in the compensatory education or appoint his caregiver as decision maker but nevertheless proceeded to address the various claims. The court ruled that the district had not denied him FAPE for either year. C.S. and his car giver then appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

What was the ruling?

Despite arguing that a Montana district failed to evaluate him for specific learning disabilities, failed to conduct age-appropriate transition assessments, and wrongfully sought a surrogate parent to represent his educational interests, an adult student with autism could not show that the district denied him FAPE.

What does this mean for educators in Montana?

Districts are not liable for procedural violations of FAPE that have no impact on the student’s learning or the parent’s participation. Still, districts would be well-advised to comply with the IDEA’s procedural requirements as closely as possible. While this district had no obligation to evaluate the student for SLDs after his mother denied consent, it should have assessed the student before developing his post-secondary transition plan. The district avoided liability for that oversight only because the student’s transition services were adequate.

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

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