We put this into the “don’t try this at home” file…..

Imagine this: a bright but unmotivated student. Truancy problems. Failing grades.  Parents asking for help.  Parents asking the school to conduct an evaluation to determine if the student needs special education services.  The school does not do an evaluation.  The school concludes that the student does not qualify for special education services…but this is done without the benefit of an evaluation.  Eventually, the parents file suit, alleging a “child find” failure leading to a denial of FAPE. How do you think this is going to come out?

In Prince George’s County, Maryland it came out just fine.  The special education hearing officer held that the district committed a procedural error, but it was a “no harm no foul” situation.  The federal court affirmed that decision.

This was based on consistent testimony from teachers that the student was capable of performing well academically but simply refused to do so.  The court cited several teachers saying much the same thing—that the student simply would not come to school and would not do the work. The hearing officer came to the same conclusion in a 46-page decision. The federal court agreed with that analysis, concluding that special services would be of no use to the student, since he just wasn’t coming to school.  “You can lead a horse to water….” comes to mind.

Maybe the district had an exceptionally good lawyer.  But I would still put this one in the “don’t try this at home” category.

This type of student is not uncommon—bright but unmotivated and unwilling.  When the school refuses to investigate the source of the problem by conducting an evaluation, many hearing officers would rule against the district. Even more would rule against the district when the evidence shows that the parents had requested help on numerous occasions.  When the teachers conclude that there is no need for special education based on their own observations, without even conducting any formal testing, the district is taking a big chance. Here, it worked, but still…..don’t try this at home.

The case is T.B. Jr. v. Prince George’s County Board of Education, decided by the federal court for the State of Maryland on December 13, 2016.  We found it at 70 IDELR 47.