Ninth Circuit upholds school policy on observation of special education children

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday upheld [opinion; PDF] a California public school district's policy that parents may only observe their disabled children in the classroom for twenty minutes in order to evaluate the school's proposed education plan. The parents of a student (L.M.) with autism [advocacy site] filed suit after the psychologist they hired to evaluate the proposed plan was allowed only twenty minutes in the classroom, even though the district's own experts viewed L.M. in his home for three hours. The court rejected the parents' allegations that the district's policy violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) [text] by denying their child access to a free and appropriate public education. The court also ruled against the parents' argument that the policy infringed upon their right to due process by interfering with their ability to participate in a placement hearing. The court explained:

The District’s policy...was harmless because Parents nevertheless had a full opportunity to participate in the process to fashion an appropriate educational plan for L.M. with help from an informed and knowledgeable expert. There is no evidence to support a finding that Parents’ right to participate was significantly affected.
The court also denied the parents' request for a "stay put" order which would allow their child to remain in his current private educational program until litigation of the matter concluded, because the program did not constitute "current educational placement" under IDEA.

Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] found that a district court erred [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] when it refused to grant qualified immunity to school officials who placed a child in a special education program designed to control his repeated outbursts. The child's mother had originally sought relief under IDEA because her child suffered from severe mental and emotional health problems, but this claim was dismissed by a lower court. In 2007, the US Supreme Court held [JURIST report] that parents of special needs children have independent, enforceable rights under IDEA, overturning a Sixth Circuit decision holding that rights under IDEA are held only by the child. When US President George W. Bush signed IDEA into law [JURIST report] in 2004, he stated that it had been designed to ensure that students with disabilities would have special education teachers with the necessary skills and training. Bush was subsequently criticized for underfunding the related programs.

 

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