Toolbox Tuesday: the “no harm, no foul” principle….

The 5th Circuit has issued a published opinion in favor of Riesel ISD that touches on a number of common special education issues.  These include Child Find, what an IEP ought to look like, and student discipline. Since today is Toolbox Tuesday, we’ll tell you about the discipline issue. 

The school proposed placing the high school student in DAEP for 40 days due to an alleged assault.   The district held an ARDC meeting to conduct a manifestation determination in August, 2017.  At the time the ARDC meeting was held, the student was banned from school grounds, so he did not attend. This was particularly unfortunate because he had just turned 18. That meant that the rights of the parent under IDEA had transferred to him. He should have been at the meeting.  However, the district quickly corrected this error by holding a second meeting about a week later. With the student in attendance, the ARDC decided that his behavior was not a manifestation of disability. The student disagreed, and this became one of the issues in the subsequent due process hearing

The school district prevailed on all levels in this case—with the hearing officer, the federal district court, and now the 5th Circuit.  At the Circuit Court level the argument over the manifestation determination was strictly about procedure, rather than the facts.  The student argued that his exclusion from the ARDC meeting was a fatal error, a denial of his opportunity to participate in the process in a meaningful way. 

Nope. The court did not see it that way. The student was present at the second meeting and had his opportunity to participate.  Therefore this falls squarely in the “no harm, no foul” category.

We’ll have more to say about this case, but that’s it for today.  Except to add that the case of Leigh Ann H. v. Riesel ISD was decided by the 5th Circuit on November 22, 2021, and will be published in the Federal Reporter, meaning that it can be cited as a binding precedent in future cases.  Hats off to the district staff, and the team effort at Walsh Gallegos led by Gigi Driscoll, Jennifer Carroll, Craig Wood, Nona Matthews and Meredith Walker.  Until it’s published in the Federal Reporter, the opinion can be found at 2021 WL 5444726. 


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Tomorrow: a curveball from the court.