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Disregarding signs of disability amounts to “child find” violation

Disregarding signs of a student’s disabilities amounts to a refusal to identify for “child find” purposes under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal court with jurisdiction over Oregon, found a district’s failure to conduct an educational assessment in the face of facts clearly indicating a student’s learning disabilities amounted to a “refusal” to identify her under the IDEA.  

Addison was a ninth-grade student who received very poor grades and scored below the first percentile on standardized tests. The school counselor attributed her poor performance to difficulties common to children transitioning from grade school to high school.  In the first semester of her tenth-grade year, however, Addison failed every academic subject.  In addition, her teachers reported that she was ‘like a stick of furniture” in class, her class work was “incomprehensible,” she sometimes refused to enter the classroom and colored with crayons at her desk.  Despite these warning signs, Addison’s mother was reluctant to have her child assessed, and the district decided not to “push.”  The district also disregarded a mental-health counselor’s recommendation she be assessed for learning disabilities.  The district only acted after Addison’s mother explicitly requested an educational assessment.  The assessment revealed Addison was eligible for special education services.  Addison brought a claim under the IDEA based on the district’s failure to identify her needs and provide a free appropriate public education.  An administrative law judge found in Addison’s favor and a federal district court affirmed.  

On appeal, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling.  In addition to child find obligations, the IDEA also requires states to implement a number of procedural safeguards to ensure that disabled children receive an appropriate education.  Among these safeguards is the opportunity for any party to present a complaint with regard to a district’s child find policies and procedures.  The IDEA also requires that districts provide written notice to parents whenever they “refuse to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or education al placement of a child.”  Because the district disregarded clear signs Addison may have had learning disabilities and failed to conduct a timely educational assessment, it effectively “refused” to initiate identification or evaluation of Addison under the IDEA.  As such, the district was subject to Addison’s due process claim and required to provide her with compensatory educational services.  Compton Unified Sch. Dist. v. Addison, 110 LRP 17236 (9th Cir. Mar. 22, 2010).  

Take away:  In addition to providing an example of districts’ affirmative child find obligations, this case also presents a good example of the importance of following child find procedures and good record keeping.  Even though a parent may refuse a district’s referral for an initial evaluation, a parent’s failure to request an evaluation does not relieve the district of its child find obligations.  Although the parent in this case was “reluctant” to have her child evaluated, the district should have referred Addison for an initial evaluation and documented her mother’s response.  Had district officials proposed an initial evaluation through appropriate notice to the parent to obtain her informed consent and documented those efforts, the district would have been in a better position.    

NOTE:  This article is not intended to provide legal advice.  If legal advice is required, please contact Tom Lenox.          

Federal court finds IEP and placement appropriate over parents’ objections

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