U.S. Court of Appeals Decision Favors Student Who Brought IDEA Claim

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

The United States Court of Appeals, in March 2010, voted in favor of specialized children in the case, Compton Unified School District v. Addison. This case upheld the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures children with disabilities have access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

In Compton, Addison, the student, received very poor grades and scored below the first percentile on standardized tests during her ninth-grade year in 2002-2003. The school counselor promoted her to tenth-grade, despite her low performance.

During the fall semester of her tenth-grade year, in 2003, Addison failed every academic subject. Addison’s mother was reluctant to have her child tested, and the School District did not require it. Instead the School District referred Addison to a third-party counselor who recommended the School District assess Addison for learning disabilities. The School District ignored this directive and promoted Addison to the eleventh-grade.

In September 2004, Addison’s mother explicitly requested an educational assessment and Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting from the School District. The assessment took place and Addison was found eligible for special education services on January 26, 2005, which was during the spring of her eleventh-grade year.

Addison and her mother brought the claim against the school district seeking compensation for the School District’s failure to identify her needs and provide her with a free appropriate public education.

The school district argued two issues: the first is that the IDEA’s written notice procedures limit the jurisdictional scope of the due process complaint procedure and the second is that they did not receive “clear notice” of the availability of an administrative hearing in “child find” cases. The court rejected the school district’s first argument contending that the Supreme Court has already addressed this issue. The Supreme Court has stated that a conservative reading of the IDEA would leave parents without an adequate remedy if a school district fails to identify a child with disabilities. Regarding the second issue, the court additionally struck down the school district’s argument of “clear notice” finding the IDEA clearly allows complaint “with respect to any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child.”

The court’s decision in this case provides fuel for other parents to seek compensation for a school district’s failure to identify children with disabilities in the educational system.

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