Best Best & Krieger LLP Partner Karen Van Dijk won a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision on behalf of a school district over placement of a special education student. In an opinion handed down on March 15, the court affirmed a lower court’s ruling in favor of Tustin Unified School District.
The student’s parents and the District filed their own respective actions with the Office of Administrative Hearings after the parents did not accept the District’s proposal to transition the student from her current placement in a county special schools program to a District special day class program pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Following a hearing held over six days, an administrative law judge found that the District’s proposal constituted a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. The ALJ also ruled in favor of the District on a number of other procedural claims, including parent participation and predetermination claims, among others. Parents appealed this ruling to the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California, which granted summary judgment in favor of the District on all issues. The parents filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit seeking to overturn the District Court’s ruling.
Among the claims on appeal, the parents said they were not adequately involved in the placement decision and that the District denied the student a FAPE by predetermining the placement before a final Individualized Education Program meeting. The Ninth Circuit disagreed and found that the parents “were provided adequate — and arguably extraordinary — opportunities in the placement decision.” The opinion notes that the parents had visited the proposed placement multiple times and at least one of them attended and participated in every IEP meeting. The evidence shows the District did not unlawfully predetermine the student’s placement and was “open minded” in regard to placement and all other decisions during the IEP meeting, the opinion states.
The case is S. H. v. Tustin Unified School District, Ninth Circuit Case No. 15-55701