Pop Quiz! Evidence is to the jury as ______________ is to the ARD Committee. What should go in the blank?
The correct answer to our analogy question is EVALUATION DATA. Evidence is to the jury as EVALUATION DATA is to the ARD Committee. All decisions by the ARDC should be based on the evaluation data. Such is the lesson of Blount County Board of Education v. Bowens, 60 IDELR 218 (N.D.Ala. 2013).
In this case, a parent took her child to a clinic sometime before the third birthday. The clinic diagnosed the child as autistic and called for a structured, fulltime preschool for at least 25 hours per week. The district “accepted” this evaluation and concluded that no further evaluation was needed. The parent placed the student in a private program consistent with the private evaluation. The district never put a specific IEP on the table and only offered a program for two to three days a week. Later the parent asked for reimbursement for the private school tuition and she got it. Key Quote:
As a threshold matter, the evidence is undisputed that Blount County accepted the Sparks Clinic’s evaluation. Consequently, Blount County had an obligation to provide a FAPE consistent with the Sparks Clinic’s determination that J.B. required a minimum of twenty-five hours of intensive instruction per week and that J.B. “attend a structured preschool on a full-time basis.” Therefore, Blount County’s offer for J.B. to attend the Multi-Needs Center for two to three days per week fell significantly short of satisfying J.B.’s “unique needs” as outlined by the Sparks Clinic.
This is a good illustration of how dangerous it is for the school not to conduct its own evaluation. The court basically points out that the only evaluation data that existed called for a fulltime structured program. With no evaluation of its own, the district had no basis to provide anything less than that. If the district “accepts” the private evaluation and chooses not to do its own, it should be prepared to provide the level of services recommended by the private evaluation. This decision was affirmed by the 11th Circuit at 63 IDELR 243 (11th Cir. 2014). The appellate court treated this not as a unilateral placement by the parent, but rather a placement that the school acquiesced to. Still, the starting point for the school’s legal problems was the failure to conduct its own evaluation.
DAWG BONE: EVALUATION DATA IS THE RUDDER THAT STEERS THE SHIP.