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By: Lily Crespo Esq.
Understanding the framework of this case: School districts and parents sometimes disagree on what should be included in a child’s individualized education program (“IEP”). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) provides a process whereby parents who disagree with the district’s IEP can request a due process hearing to challenge the IEP. A key part of the resolution process is that there is a thirty-day resolution period, starting when the complaint is filed, during which the district has an opportunity to resolve the dispute that is the basis of the complaint.
What happened? The Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, recently held in Board of Education of the Yorktown Central School District v. C.S, that the school district cannot unilaterally change the IEP during the resolution period. Rather, the district is locked into defending the IEP as it existed prior to the due process complaint being filed. While the Yorktown Central complaint addressed a situation where a family unilaterally enrolled a student in a private placement and then sought tuition reimbursement, the analysis likely would not change in other situations. Thus, it is important that IEPs offered to parents reflect the actual program being offered to the student.
Background of the case: In the Yorktown Central case, the district found out just how costly failing to fix an error in the IEP during the ten-day notice period can be. The case involved an IEP for the student’s Seventh Grade year. The IEP in question indicated the student, who had multiple disabilities and was identified as learning disabled, would be in a class with twelve students and two adults. The parents, however, were informed verbally on several occasions that the Seventh Grade classes all had a ratio of fifteen students to two adults.
“The statute’s insistence on communication and its careful articulation of procedural protections for parents stand at odds with a rule that would allow school districts to unilaterally amend their IEPs during the resolution period and affect the FAPE determination on which a child’s schooling options rest,” U.S. Circuit Judge Susan L. Carney wrote.
Conclusion: In the case discussed here, both the due process hearing officer and the District Court found the class size of fifteen students would have offered the student a free appropriate public education as required by the IDEA. The district, however, ultimately ended up paying a high price for the error because the Second Circuit found the program in the IEP, which offered a twelve-student class, could not be implemented by the district, which had no such class. The Court, therefore, ordered the district to reimburse the parents for the private school placement.
As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Kevin, Megan, Beth, and Lily by email or at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.