Who decides if the student has an “educational need”?

We continue to see many arguments over whether or not a student should be declared eligible for special education services.  Most of those arguments are about “educational need.” Under IDEA standards, a student can have all of the characteristics of a particular disability, and yet, not be eligible because the student does not “need” special education services.

Clear Creek ISD placed Devon in special education during his first year of high school.  But by April of his sophomore year, the school was ready to dismiss him from special education.  The parent disagreed with that decision, but did not take it to a due process hearing….yet.  Devon received no special education services during his junior year. However, the issue of his eligibility was revisited by the ARD Committee in April of that year. Again, the ARDC determined that the boy was not eligible. The parent disagreed.  In the spring semester of his senior year, Devon’s attendance at school took a nose dive.  In April the parent requested a due process hearing.

The hearing officer ruled in favor of the school, and now the federal court has affirmed that ruling. The magistrate’s recommendation in this case, ultimately approved by the court, outlines a complicated fact situation involving extensive correspondence between the father and the school.  Emails from various staff members are quoted throughout the magistrate’s opinion and they consistently demonstrate flexibility, courtesy and a willingness to accommodate parental concerns.  Furthermore, they consistently show that the teachers viewed Devon as a successful student.  The court noted that the input of the teachers carries more weight than the opinions of outsiders:  Key Quote:

Importantly, the determination of educational need was not for an outside provider to make but was within the judgment of the ARDC…..The observations of teachers who spend time daily with Devon in the educational setting are more reliable regarding educational need than those outside providers who base their opinions on isolated in-school observations and parent-provided information and documentation.

The parent complained that the teachers relied solely on Devon’s grades, but the court did not see it that way:

During his junior year, as discussed by the ARDC, Devon’s grades improved in spite of his dismissal from special education and even though he had not accessed any generally available support services. The ARDC discussed Devon’s above-average scores on the PSAT, his progress on the Distinguished Achievement Plan for graduation, and positive teacher reports regarding academics.

Contrary to Plaintiff’s suggestion, the ARDC did not focus exclusively on Devon’s grades but properly also considered achievement tests, teacher recommendations, and social interactions.

The case is Devon L. v. Clear Creek ISD.  It was decided by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on September 7, 2016.  We found it the magistrate’s recommendation at 116 LRP 38829, and the court’s brief opinion at 68 IDELR 166.


File this one under: SPECIAL EDUCATION

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