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Media Alerts - I.R. v. Los Angeles Unified School District - Ninth District
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March 1, 2016
  I.R. v. Los Angeles Unified School District - Ninth District
Headline: When a parent does not consent to a component of a special education program, school districts must expeditiously initiate a due process hearing.

Area of Law: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Issues Presented: Is a school district's duty to initiate a due process hearing triggered when a parent does not consent to a component of a special education program that is deemed necessary to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE") if the school district continues to work with the parents on an Individualized Education Program ("IEP")?

How long is too long for a school district to determine a component's necessity and initiate a due process hearing?

Significance: This case is binding precedent and applicable to all California educational agencies required to offer and provide a Fair PE. It may be prudent for School Districts to internally review IEP's with contested components and assess whether it must initiate a due process hearing.

Brief Summary: A mother consented to some components of an IEP and objected to other components. Over a course of two years, while the child remained in an inappropriate placement, LAUSD continued to meet with the child's mother in an effort to find a solution both parties could agree to. LAUSD contended that because of its continued efforts, its duty to initiate a due process hearing had not yet been triggered. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that conducted the due process hearing agreed and then the District Court affirmed. The Ninth Circuit panel carefully reviewed the statutory schemes which the lower courts relied and held that the lower courts acted in error by failing to initiate a due process hearing.

Extended Summary: In 2006, at the request of the child's mother, the Los Angeles Unified School District ("LAUSD") found a child to be eligible for a special education because of "autistic-like" behaviors and an initial Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting was held. However, the mother opted to place the child in private preschool, where the child remained through first grade.

In 2010, the mother sought to enroll the child into a public elementary school within the LAUSD. It was at this time that the Mother consented to some components of the August 2006 IEP, but not to others. In November 2010, LAUSD prepared another IEP recommending the child's placement in a special education environment at the public school. Mother objected in writing and notified LAUSD that she wanted a general education placement for the child with a one-on-one aide. LAUSD implemented only those components the Mother consented to. Between November 2010 and February 2012, several IEP meetings were held and all recommended the child's placement in a special education placement.

On May 29, 2012, Mother filed a request for a due process hearing. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducting the hearing concluded that LAUSD did offer an appropriate program for the child and thus offered the child a FAPE. Although LAUSD acknowledged it failed to provide a FAPE and the ALJ acknowledged that California Education Code § 56346(f) required a school district to initiate a due process hearing when a parent did not consent to a component necessary to provide a FAPE, the ALJ did not hold the LAUSED liable. The ALJ concluded that the Mother's refusal to consent to the contested components precluded LAUSD from implementing and providing a FAPE.

Mother appealed to the district court. District Court affirmed the ALJ's decision on the grounds that (1) LAUSD acknowledged that the child had not been provided with a FAPE during the second and third grade, and (2) the Mother acknowledged that LAUSD had offered an appropriate program. In response to the LAUSD's failure to initiate a due process hearing, the district court held that 20 U.S.C. § 1414 precluded LAUSD from (1) initiating a due process hearing, and (2) being held liable for its failure to provide a FAPE.

Mother appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit concluded the district court erred in its interpretation of the applicable statutes. The district court had relied on 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(1)(D)(ii)(II), which provides that if a parent refuses to consent to services under clause (i)(II), before a district provides special education and related services to a child, a local educational agency shall not provide the services by utilizing the procedures described in 20 U.S.C. § 1415. Section 1415 grants school districts the power to initiate a due process hearing. After a close examination of the statutory scheme, the Ninth Circuit held that the school district was prevented from initiating a due process hearing only where a parent has refused consent before the initial provision of special education and related services. The court held that the statute did not apply in situations where a parent consented to the program, but only objected to specific components of the IEP.

The next issue before the Ninth Circuit was whether LAUSD's duty to initiate a due process hearing had been triggered. LAUSD argued that because it was holding IEP meetings in an effort to work with the child's parents, the duty had not been triggered. The Ninth Circuit panel held under California Education Code § 56346(f), the duty is immediately triggered at the moment a school district determines a disputed component is necessary to provide a FAPE. Thus, LAUSD's duty to initiate a due process hearing had been triggered.

The last issue the Ninth Circuit addressed was the length of time a school district has to initiate the due process hearing after making its determination. The Court held the due process hearing should be initiated expeditiously, but with some flexibility to give parents an opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of the proposed program. The court explained that it is ultimately up to a fact finder to decide what a reasonable amount of time is.

The Ninth Circuit found because LAUSD failed to initiate a due process hearing, as required under California law, it could be held liable for denying the child a FAPE for an unreasonably prolonged period that resulted in the child's two-year loss of an educational opportunity and deprivation of educational benefits.

To read full opinion, please visit:

https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2015/11/17/13-56211.pdf

Panel: Miranda Du, District Judge sitting by designation, Stephen Reinhardt and Richard R. Clifton, Circuit Judges.

Argument Date: July 10, 2015

Date of Issued Opinion: November 17, 2015

Docket Number: No. 13-56211

Decided: Reversed and remanded.

Case Alert Author: Melissa A. Padilla

Counsel: Jennifer Guze Campbell, Vanessa Jarvis (argued), Special Education Law Firm, APC, Lakewood, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

David Holmquist, Diane H. Pappas, Patrick J. Balucan (argued), Office of General Counsel, Los Angeles, California, for Defendant-Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Hon. Miranda M. Du

Circuit: Ninth

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Ryan T. Williams

    Posted By: Ryan Williams @ 03/01/2016 01:06 PM     9th Circuit  

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