Special Ed Referral three months before graduation. Hmmm.

T.W. was in the district’s dyslexia program at first, and was later moved to “monitor” status.  The boy made good grades in high school, racking up a 3.45 GPA and achieving satisfactory scores on 11 of 12 STAAR tests.  Nevertheless, the student had significant stress at times, and needed extra support.  The judge who reviewed T.W.’s case noted that the student’s “performance in school was bolstered by support he received from his parent, his teachers, and his coaches.  T.W.’s coaches were particularly attentive to his performance in school because T.W. was a star football player, and when T.W. struggled in a particular class, they would provide support and ensure T.W. received sufficient study time.”

As the saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished.”  In the lawsuit, the parents alleged that this extra support disguised the boy’s need for special education services that the district never provided.  The parent pursued a special education due process hearing and then an appeal to federal court.  The primary legal issue was Child Find.  The parent alleged that the district violated IDEA when it refused to conduct an evaluation to determine the student’s eligibility.

The parent’s request for a special education evaluation came in February, 2016. The student was on track to graduate in May. The district refused to conduct an evaluation, citing a lack of educational need. By the time the hearing officer heard the case, the student had graduated and received an academic scholarship to Howard Payne University.  All of this helped the hearing officer, and then the court, rule in favor of the district. Key Quote:

Specifically, the Special Education Hearing Officer reasoned that T.W. had passed all his classes, graduated, was admitted to college and had performed satisfactorily on nearly all state assessments and benchmark tests. 

The court also noted that the student demonstrated strong “behavioral progress” and had acquired  “appropriate social skills.” Yes, he received a lot of support and some accommodations, but these were “not highly individualized, but rather, were available to other students as needed.”

The lawyers for the student tried to make the case that our hearing officers lack the authority to determine if a student is eligible. The court shot that down.  The backup argument was that the hearing officer in this case did not have enough information to make his decision.  The response to that:

This is ludicrous.  Before reaching his determination, the SEHO [Special Education Hearing Officer] had the benefit of a multiday evidentiary hearing during which the parties submitted 40 exhibits and called thirteen witnesses.  The resulting administrative record is 2,226 pages. 

Interesting to note that there was never a dispute about the student having dyslexia.  But given the services offered by the school and the student’s own intelligence, he did not need “specially designed instruction.”  Chalk this case up as one that holds that dyslexia can be effectively served through Section 504.

Remember also: a referral can come at any time and should always be responded to appropriately.  But when it comes within months of graduation for a student who is on track to graduate, it’s a lot harder to find an “educational need.”

The case is T.W. v. Leander ISD, decided by the federal court for the Western District of Texas on March 7, 2019. We found it at 2019 WL 1102380.


The Dawg barks again on Monday.  See you then!