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Appeals Court Rules that School Must Offer an IEP to a
Child with Disability

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To advocate for your child, you must learn about legal rights and responsibilities. You also need to learn how to do legal research so you can find answers to your questions.

When you do research a legal issue, you need to read the statute and regulations. You also need to read caselaw about your legal issue. You will find the IDEA statute and regulations in IDEA 2004 @ Wrightslaw. You will find special education decisions in the Special Education Caselaw section.

Legal decisions are often hard to understand when you first read them. You may be tempted to give up. If you read a case and don't understand what it means, don't give up! You are not alone. If you persevere, you and your child will benefit from your hard work.

When you read caselaw, you will see why you receive conflicting opinions and advice about a legal issue.

Knable v. Bexley (Sixth Cir. 2001)

In January 2001, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a well-written decision in Knable v. Bexley. This decision focuses on IEPs, IEP meetings, FAPE, procedural and substantive violations, and tuition reimbursement and was favorable to the parents.

The school district appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.

On June 30, 2001, the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear the school district's appeal. The pro-child decision stands.

Background

In Knable v. Bexley, the school district evaluated the child and concluded that he had a severe behavior disorder and was eligible for special education services. Despite this, school did not offer an IEP meeting for nearly two years.

After Justin was discharged from a psychiatric hospital, the school devised a "plan" to deal with his behavior. However, the Court found that "Justin did almost no work at school, spent a great deal of time in the principal's office, and failed three of his seven subjects." He was disrespectful and disruptive at school.

"Forthcoming" IEP Never Came

During meetings with school officials, Justin's parents requested an IEP. They sent a letter requesting an IEP. Although the school district staff advised the parents that an IEP was "forthcoming." an IEP was not developed.

Eventually, the parents began to explore residential placements on their own. They sent a letter and requested an IEP. When the district realized that the parents were looking into a private placement for their son, the district sent the parents a "draft" IEP.

When the district did not meet with them to develop an IEP, the parents placed their son in Grove School. By the end of seventh grade at Grove School, Justin "received all As and Bs on his report card." (quote taken from the decision)

The parents requested a due process hearing. Because the school did not provide Justin with a free appropriate public education (FAPE), the parents requested reimbursement for his tuition at the private school.

Multiple Violations of the IDEA by School District

In Knable, the court discusses the history of the IDEA, child find, IEPs and IEP meetings, relief under the IDEA, and standard of review. The Court found that the school district violated several procedural and substantive requirements of the IDEA:

  • Bexley failed to convene an IEP conference
  • Bexley's procedural violation denied Justin a FAPE
  • Bexley's "draft" IEP was not reasonably calculated to enable Justin to receive educational benefit
  • Bexley's "draft" IEP did not offer an appropriate program
  • Bexley's "draft" IEP include no present performance levels, goals and objectives, and special education and related services that would be provided
  • Bexley's "draft" or proposed IEP was not free - the parents were required to to exhaust their insurance coverage before the district would pay for Justin's education

Tuition Reimbursement

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Florence County School District Four v. Shannon Carter, the Sixth Circuit found that for parents to be reimbursed for a private school placement, they must demonstrate:

* that the district did not provide FAPE, and
* that their unilateral placement was proper

As in Carter, the district argued that the parents could not be reimbursed because Grove School was not the "least restrictive" placement. They also argued that the private placement was too expensive.

The Court disagreed.

In a unanimous decision, the Court noted that "parents who have not been treated properly under the IDEA and who unilaterally withdraw their child from public school will commonly place their child in a private school that specializes in teaching children with disabilities. We would vitiate the right of parental placement recognized in Burlington and Carter were we to find that such private school placements automatically violated the IDEA's mainstreaming requirement."

Learning About IEPs and FAPE

If you have a child with a disability, your child is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). What does this mean?

The legal concept of "FAPE" is shorthand for "free, appropriate public education." FAPE is defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) at 20 U. S. C. § 1401(9). (page 51, Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition)

The term is also defined in the Code of Federal Regulations at 34 C.F.R. § 300.17. (page 196, Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition)

In a nutshell, FAPE is an individualized educational program that is designed to meet the child's unique needs and from which the child receives educational benefit.

To answer your questions about IEPs and FAPE, we built special pages about these important topics. In these pages, you will find links to articles, law and regulations, and other information.

For a list of topics on Wrightslaw, visit the Master Topics Page or the Sitemap.

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