Toolbox Tuesday: 9th Circuit Case is Relevant to Tool #3

The 9th Circuit recently issued a very short opinion about what sounds like a small issue. The IEP Team in a school district in Gilbert, Arizona proposed to provide an additional 20 minutes per day of special education services. This would take the student out of the general education classroom for those 20 minutes.  The parents objected, citing the legal requirement that students be served in the LRE—Least Restrictive Environment. Here we have a school district proposing an MRE—a More Restrictive Environment.

That’s what Tool #3 in the Toolbox is about. It’s an Educational Change of Placement Without Parental Agreement.  Tool #3 might be used to change placement for the full day, or it might be something like this case—just 20 minutes a day.

The court ruled in favor of the school district. It acknowledged that this was a more restrictive setting, but the court noted that “the student’s academic needs weigh most heavily against a mainstream environment.”  The law, according to the court “is primarily concerned with the long term educational welfare of disabled students.”

I found it particularly interesting that the 9th Circuit cited Endrew F. v. Douglas County in support of its ruling. Endrew is the case in which SCOTUS held that an IEP’s goals must be “appropriately ambitious.”  But the measure of what is “appropriately” ambitious has to take into account the unique strengths and weakness of the student.  The IEP must be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” (Emphasis added).

Educators would be wise to use some of this language when trying to persuade parents that a move to a more restrictive environment would be a good thing. For example: “We can continue to serve your child in the mainstream classroom, but we won’t see as much progress as we would if we could provide more direct special education services.  We want to set goals for your child that are appropriately ambitious for her.  We can be more ambitious with our goals if we can provide more direct special education services.”

If the parent agrees to the change, you have used Tool #2. If the parent does not agree, you can consider Tool #3. 

The Toolbox is a full day training offering ten tools that empower educators to serve students with disabilities appropriately, while providing a safe and orderly school experience. 

Today’s case is R.M. v. Gilbert USD, decided by the 9th Circuit with an “unpublished” decision on April 24, 2019.  We found it at 2019 WL 1787368.


Tomorrow:  Principal dismissed from lawsuit.