Location. Location. Location. But what does that word mean?

I bet you’ve heard the same thing I have—that in the world of real estate there are three critical factors: location, location and location.

In the real estate world, “location” means street address, or latitude and longitude.  But due to a 9th Circuit decision, we now have confirmation that “location” has a different meaning to educators.

Rachel was served in a private school at public expense for the 2011-12 school year.  In May, 2012, the student’s IEP Team in Hawaii decided that her special education needs could be met at a public school.  Thus the expectation of all parties was that Rachel would be at Kalani High School, which was close to Rachel’s home. The IEP, however, did not specify what school Rachel would attend.

The family moved over the summer.  Now they were in Kailua, 20 to 30 miles from Kalani High.  Rachel’s dad requested public reimbursement for private schooling indicating that the student would attend private school, rather than Kalani High or any other public school. The school district turned down the request.

The case ended up before the 9th Circuit, with the father arguing that the failure to identify a specific school was a serious procedural error that deprived the student of FAPE.  The argument was based on the requirement in IDEA that the IEP must identify the “frequency, duration and LOCATION” where services will be provided.

The court delved into the details of comments to the federal regulations and legislative history and concluded that “location” does not mean what you might think.  “Location,” the court concluded,  means the “type of environment that is the appropriate place for provision of [a special education] service.”  Thus the IEP must identify whether services will be provided in the general education classroom, a special classroom or other setting. There may be times when an IEP needs to identify a specific campus where the student will be served, but the failure to do so does not “per se” violate IDEA.

The court seemed to think the dad was trying to pull a fast one here.  When the family let the school know that they had moved, the school asked the logical question: where do you live?  Which attendance zone are you in?  The parents did not answer that question. Thus the school officials could not identify which high school the student would attend.  The court put it this way:

But instead of undergoing a normal registration process with the educational agency in Kailua, Rachel’s parents decided to treat a purported technical violation of the IDEA as allowing them to unilaterally enroll their daughter in private school at public expense without identifying a single special education need her existing IEP failed to meet….Because the IDEA does not require educational agencies to identify a specific school in every IEP, this gambit must fail.

Let’s keep this in context.  Your IEPs normally do identify a specific school.  Moreover, in 99% of the cases, everyone knows exactly which school the student will attend. This court decision is helpful, though, by confirming what we have always thought “location” means in the IDEA.

The case is Rachel H. v. DOE State of Hawaii, decided by the 9th Circuit on August 29, 2017.


Tomorrow: An invitation to a social event!