A deep dive into “educational need”

This is the third Daily Dawg entry this week about a case in California. The court held that the school missed the boat on its Child Find duty as I explained on Monday.  One reason this happened is because of the misunderstanding in the school about LRE.  We discussed that yesterday. All of what we have told you about so far occurred in the student’s sophomore year of high school.  Today we focus on what happened in the student’s junior and senior years of high school. 

For those two years the student was placed by the parent in a residential facility that offered no educational services. Instead, the facility sent its residents to the local public school. This student was assigned to general classes with no IEP, and a minimal 504 plan. And guess what?  She attended that school for two years and did well.  The court concluded that this showed that the student did not need specially designed instruction (AKA “special ed”). 

This is the rare case that makes a deep dive into “educational need.”  When we say that a student “needs” special education, we are saying that the student’s disability requires a special kind of instruction. It requires changes in the content, the methodology, or the delivery of instruction.  The residential facility did provide “academic support” which involved structure, study periods, and planning.  Is that “special education”?  Is it “specially designed instruction”? The court said no:

…nothing in the record suggests that Ms. Johnston provided instruction that adapted the content, methodology, or delivery of N.N.’s general education curriculum. 

The Court agrees with the District that the support Ms. Johnston provided to N.N. resembles the kind of support a parent provides for a child at home.

Well…that’s the kind of support WE WISH every parent would provide at home.

Not every hearing officer or court would analyze the situation in this much detail.  But this opinion is firmly grounded in the law. We toss around the term “educational need” a lot. This case tells us what that term really means.  It means that the student’s disability requires changes in what or how the student is taught. 

It's N.N. v. Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District, decided by the federal court for the Northern District of California on August 4, 2022. 


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com

Tomorrow:  continuing my travels and work as a teacher’s aide….