R.L., S.L. v, Miami-Dade County School Board, (11th Cir. 2014) 2014 WL 3031231;
Dawg Bones: Words spoken by the “administrative rep” at an ARD Meeting can come back to haunt you.
It has to be frustrating for the Miami-Dade County School District to be found guilty of “predetermination” after holding an IEP Team meeting that lasted three full days, with the parents in attendance the whole time. The parties met from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on three separate occasions in an effort to develop an IEP and placement for a student moving from middle school to high school. On top of that, the district sent the parents 59 (59!) “prior written notice” forms following the IEP Team meetings, but was then accused of not providing “prior written notice” as required by law. The parents were represented by a slew of lawyers, one of whom sought to recover for his time at the rate of $600/hour.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the district “predetermined” the boy’s placement at Palmetto Senior High School. That school served 3600 students. The parents wanted their son at MAST Academy, a much smaller charter school operated by the district. There was evaluation data to indicate that a large school would be difficult for the student to deal with, and might exacerbate his problems. But the district insisted on Palmetto, and the court based its “predetermination” claim largely on a transcript of the IEP Team meetings in which the LEA representative was quoted as saying that MAST was “not an option that’s on the table as far as [the Board] is concerned. What our option is, is that he go to his home school.”
“This explicit statement,” said the Court, “that the Board was considering placement only at Palmetto Senior High School, and that bureaucratic policies precluded an alternative placement, weighs strongly in favor of finding predetermination.”
The Court’s opinion makes it clear that the voice of the “administrative representative” carries a lot of weight. The Court noted that “Other Board representatives [i.e., members of the IEP Team], to their credit, seemed ready to discuss whether the Board could accommodate [the student’s] needs by offering a smaller setting for [the student] within Palmetto Senior High School….But the Board representative running the meeting cut this conversation short, saying finally that the placement would be Palmetto Senior High School and that the parents would have to pursue mediation if they disagreed.”
It’s appropriate for the administrative representative to “speak for the school” after a full discussion of all options has been conducted. It’s OK for the school to come to the conclusion that the meeting is going to end in non-consensus, and to explain that to the parents. But the “not an option” remark hurt the district’s case.
So be careful out there. Even when you are tired and frustrated, be careful.