October 26, 2018 | Blog, IDEA, LRE, Special Education

The Parent’s Always Right…Not

Dean Micknal

by Dean Micknal

Did you know parents do not have a right to compel a school district to provide specific programming or employ specific methodology when teaching students with disabilities? According to a Special Education Hearing Officer’s interpretation of the IDEA, parents may provide meaningful input into the development of their child’s IEP, but are not entitled to dictate the outcome. When it comes down to a choice in methodology, deference is given to professional educators.

A due process hearing in June 2018 ruled on a dispute between a well-intentioned parent and a Texas school district. The central issue turned on whether the District’s proposal to implement a more holistic reading program and placement in a special education classroom for reading and math instruction was reasonably calculated to provide FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment, or LRE. The “methodological dispute” arose following a February 2018 ARD meeting that ended in non-consensus on the District’s proposals.

The parent stated the student was making progress in the student’s private reading program, funded by the parent, and argued the District should incorporate lessons from the private reading program into the student’s school day. In contrast, the District wanted to increase the student’s instructional time in a special education classroom for Reading and Math and provide the student with a more holistic approach to reading. The District argued the special education classroom provided the student with more one-on-one assistance due to the lower student/teacher ratio and the proposed reading program catered to the student’s visual learning skills, a strength discovered in prior evaluations.

The Hearing Officer noted a parent is entitled to provide their child with whatever assistance they deem appropriate, but the law does not compel a district to employ the same assistance merely because it is the parent’s preference. While a parent may be committed to their child’s best interest, the best interest of the student is not the applicable legal standard under the IDEA. Rather, the IDEA requires the District to provide a program “reasonably calculated to provide [the] student with a meaningful educational benefit given [the] student’s unique circumstances.”

The District’s proposed program, in this case, utilized the student’s individual strengths as a visual learner and would instruct at an appropriate pace while taking into account the student’s processing deficits. The program was based on 1) research, 2) the student’s educational history, and 3) the student’s assessed strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, this program satisfied the requisite IDEA standard and was reasonably calculated to provide the student with a meaningful educational benefit in light of the student’s individual circumstances.

On a related note, the Hearing Officer also conducted an analysis of the least restrictive environment and named several factors to be considered in making an LRE determination. The noted factors include the nature and severity of the student’s disabilities, academic achievement, non-academic benefits of placement in a regular classroom, overall experience in the mainstreamed environment, and the effect of the student’s presence in the regular classroom. With respect to the last factor, the Hearing Officer explained that two questions should be asked when evaluating the effect of the student’s presence in the regular classroom. The first is whether the student’s behavior is so disruptive the education of the other students is significantly impaired. The second question is whether the student requires so much of the teacher’s attention the rest of the class suffers. If the answer to these questions is yes, the balance leans in favor of placement in a special education classroom.

In this case, the evidence showed the student became consistently frustrated attempting to keep up with the student’s non-disabled peers and that frustration disrupted the student’s own learning and the learning of other students. The student needed a high-level of teacher assistance and became disruptive when they did not receive it. Additionally, the student became increasingly frustrated and disruptive when the teacher was helping other students. These factors along with others led to the conclusion that the student’s LRE was placement in a mix of general and special education classrooms as proposed by the District.

This decision is a good illustration of the law surrounding parental rights to provide meaningful input, but not to compel or dictate the actions districts take. Districts should listen to and understand what the parent desires, but ultimately the District has both the right and obligation to make an individual determination based on the student’s unique circumstances. Additionally, when making a determination as to a student’s LRE the Fifth Circuit’s two part test, as set forth in Daniel R.R. v. State Board of Educ., should be followed. First, the analysis must be individualized and fact-specific. Second, careful consideration should be given to the nature and severity of the student’s abilities, disabilities, needs, and the district’s response to the student’s needs.

If you would like to read the full decision, click here and scroll down to Docket No. 146-SE-0218.

If you have any additional questions about this ruling or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Leasor Crass.

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