Toolbox Tuesday!! IDEA supports creative approaches….

The case I’m going to tell you about today is the kind that will drive lawyers who represent parents in special education disputes right up the wall.  Based on the bare facts laid out in the court’s opinion it certainly sounds like the student was not served well. And yet the hearing officer ruled in favor of the school and now a federal court has affirmed that ruling.

The reason I decided to feature this case is because it illustrates a key point about IDEA—that the most important of those four letters is the I, standing for “Individual.”  It’s the INDIVIDUALS with Disabilities Education Act.  In this case, the district took some unorthodox steps, but because they were designed to meet the unique needs of this student, the district’s course of action passed muster with the courts. 

What happened?  In February, 2018 the IEP Team reduced the student’s class load from four to two classes, both of which he failed.  And one of those was P.E.!  The court was OK with this, noting that the IEP was to be assessed as of the time it was created, not based on hindsight and performance.  Key Quotes:

Thus, a student’s progress (or lack thereof) after implementation of an IEP is not definitive evidence of a failure to provide FAPE.

[In the Endrew F. case the [Supreme] Court reiterates that the scrutiny must be placed on whether the IEP was reasonably calculated to result in progress, not whether it actually did.

What were the student’s unique needs that would justify such a move?  The student was refusing to attend school and threatening to drop out.  Therefore the sole focus of the IEP was to reduce his stress and get him to attend school. The court approved:

In other words, the February IEP was reasonably calculated to provide Student an educational benefit because it aimed solely on getting him to school.

And the fact that Student ultimately failed the two classes he was taking does not necessarily mean the reduction in his course load was not reasonably calculated, at the time the plan was created, to help progress Student in school.  It was certainly reasonable for Defendant to believe that having Student only take two classes, rather than four, would reduce his school aversion.

A few cautions about this case are in order.  First, the court’s view that progress on the IEP is completely irrelevant conflicts with the four-part test the 5th Circuit uses to determine if FAPE has been provided.  Part four of the test is the demonstration of academic and non-academic progress. Second, reducing a student’s course load is a backwards step.  The school here offered less education rather than more.  This is not a good idea. 

But meeting individual and unique needs is the trump card with IDEA.  So I tell you about this case on Toolbox Tuesday, when we focus on serving students with serious behavioral issues.  Like this kid. This case reminds us that sometimes you have to postpone academic progress until you get behavioral issues under control.  This might be particularly relevant for bright students who are fully capable of catching up.

Don’t try this at home, at least not until you have good current evaluation data and a thorough legal review. 

The case is Teters v. Peoria USD, decided by the federal district court in Arizona on September 30, 2020.  We found it on Special Ed Connection at 77 IDELR 162.


Tomorrow: The legacy of Lot 16….