In a special education case recently decided by a federal court in Texas, the parent’s attorney argued that the private evaluations of the child were superior to the evaluation conducted by the school. Why? Because the people who did the private evaluation on behalf of the Ziggurat Group had doctorates. The school’s evaluation was conducted by a Ph.D.-less Licensed Specialist in School Psychology. The court did not view the credentials of the experts to be the key issue:
And Plaintiff has cited to no authority to show that the Court (or the SEHO) [Special Education Hearing Officer] should give greater weight to an expert opinion merely because of the degree held by that expert. The Ziggurat Group’s opinions are entitled to no greater deference than the opinions of [the LSSP] or other District officials.
Background to this: the hearing officer (Lucius Bunton) put into his ruling that the district’s evaluation was “more substantial, thorough, and credible than those of the Ziggurat Group.” This finding was instrumental in Mr. Bunton’s ruling in favor of the district. Thus on appeal, the parents argued that the hearing officer had it wrong. People with Ph.D.’s, they argued, were superior experts, entitled to greater deference.
The court first noted that the parent had identified no legal authority to back up this argument. Beyond that, the court also noted previous cases that put more emphasis on contact with the student as opposed to degrees and credentials:
School personnel often have greater contact with a handicapped child than does a treating physician. Teague ISD v. Todd L., 999 F.2d 127 (5th Cir. 1993)
Indeed, many courts have recognized the deference that should be given to a school district’s professionals in considering whether a school district has complied with the IDEA. See M.S. v. Poway USD, 2013 WL 4401673…(noting that “any differences of opinion between [the plaintiff’s] expert and the [school district’s] expert, without something more such as….discriminatory intent…[is] insufficient to overcome that deference”;
Then there was DiRocco v. Board of Education of Beacon City School District, 2013 WL 25959:
Finding that “the [c]ourt is not at liberty to favor [the] opinion…of a privately hired expert, over the deference that should appropriately be afforded to the [school] [d]istrict in matters of educational policy.”
Here’s one more from E.S. v. Katonah-Lewisboro School District, 742 F.Supp.2d 417 (S.D.N.Y. 2010:
The mere fact that a separately hired expert has recommended different programming does nothing to change [the]…deference to the district and its trained educators.
Thus the court concluded that the hearing officer was well within his authority to find the school’s evaluation to be the better one. The parent’s claim of a denial of FAPE fell short, as did the request for reimbursement for private school tuition.
The case is T.C. v. Lewisville ISD, decided by the federal court for the Eastern District of Texas on March 18, 2016.
DAWG BONE: IT’S GOOD TO HAVE A DOCTORATE. BUT IT DOESN’T AUTOMATICALLY MAKE YOUR EVALUATON THE BETTER ONE.
File this one under: SPECIAL EDUCATION
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TOMORROW IS TOOLBOX TUESDAY. WE LOOK AT A CASE INVOLVING HANDCUFFS ON A SEVEN YEAR OLD.