We begin this week with a word of warning, Loyal Readers. We are going to spend all week on special education cases. I try to balance things in the Dawg, but as we approach the end of the school year with its multiple ARD meetings, I think it’s worthwhile to devote a full week to some recent cases about special education (with a bit of 504) all of which have lessons for us. So let’s get started.
I didn’t see the term RWA in the court’s opinion, but the description of the district’s letter to the parent sounded like an RWA letter to me. Ready. Willing. Able. RWA.
That’s how the Abington School District in Pennsylvania responded when the parent moved the student to a private school for 5th grade. The student had been in the district’s special education program through 4th grade. When the parent informed the district of the move to a private school the district sent a letter to inform the parent that it remained ready, willing and able to provide the student with the FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) that the law required. The letter also asked the parent to let the district know if she changed her mind at some point and wanted to return the student to the public school.
A year passed. The student attended the private school for 5th grade, but as the parent contemplated middle school she sent an email to the principal of the elementary school asking about “what programs the district can offer.” The principal responded by putting the mom in touch with the principal of the middle school, who spoke with the parent, providing a general description of the special education services that were available.
Ask yourself: do you think this set of facts creates a duty for the district to conduct an evaluation of the student? Has the “Child Find” duty been triggered? The mother thought so, but the 3rd Circuit did not. The parent’s request for reimbursement for the private school tuition was denied. The court held that the district did not violate Child Find. The court drew a distinction between general inquiries about programs vs. specific requests for an evaluation. These communications were of the more general variety.
That may seem obvious after the fact, but notice how the district’s prompt and appropriate communication helped its cause in the litigation. When the mother pulled the student out of public school the district sent the RWA letter, which is a good practice to adopt. That letter included a “please let us know if you want to come back.” Then a year later when mom reached out, the district again responded promptly and appropriately, putting her in touch with the relevant principal.
One more point: it was fortunate for the district that the communication was by email, and thus preserved, rather than a verbal conversation. Had there been only verbal communication, it’s very likely that the parties would have had different recollections of what was said. This one is A.B. v.
Abington School District, decided by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals on January 8, 2021. It’s on Special Ed Connection at 78 IDELR 1.
DAWG BONE: ADD RWA TO YOUR VOCABULARY.
Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!