SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court recently reversed a lower court’s decision to rule in favor of Antelope Valley Union High School District over a dispute involving a disabled student’s specialized educational program.

On May 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the school district violated with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by not “adequately [documenting] the services provided by a teacher of the visually impaired.”

M.C., a student who suffers from a genetic order that causes blindness, was eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with parental consent. 

M.C.’s parents, however, did not agree with the program offered by the school district. The IEP signed by the parents stipulated 240 minutes per month with a teacher for the visually impaired (TVI). But the district said it erred when it drafted the program, and that it was really 240 minutes per week with a TVI. 

Though the District realized the mistake a week later, it did not notify the parents for more than a month and then amended the IEP by changing the offer of TVI services to 240 minutes per week, without notifying parents, or sending them a copy of the updated program. The district also did not respond to the plaintiff’s initial complaint until a due process hearing. 

The parents then filed a due process complaint, claiming that the school district committed procedural and substantive violations of the IDEA. The due process hearing took place before an administrative law judge, who denied the plaintiff’s claims and the district court affirmed.

The appeals court disagreed, holding that the administrative law judge disregarded evidence and was not thorough during the hearing.

The district failed to adequately document the TVI’s services in violation of the IDEA, the appeals courts said in its decision. The court remanded the case to the district court the prejudice the student suffered because of the district’s failure to respond and the award of appropriate compensation as a result.

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