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School district’s failure to take adequate steps to include parents in an IEP team meeting in which the district made a significant change in placement denied FAPE.

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Board of Education of the Toledo City School District v. Horen, 55 IDELR 102 (N.D. Ohio 2010):  A U.S. District Court ruled that a school district’s failure to take reasonable steps to include the parents in a planned IEP team meeting resulted in a denial of a free appropriate public education for the student, since at the meeting the school district made a significant change in the student’s placement.  However, since the District never implemented its proposed placement and the parents refused to send the child to their preferred placement, the Court determined the parents were not entitled to any relief.

The student, who was diagnosed with a seizure disorder and a mental capacity in the profound range of mental retardation, as well as a blood disorder, received her education in a special school operated by the school district for disabled and medically fragile children.  The special school had no non-disabled students, but did have two full-time nurses available for generally fewer than twenty students.  At a meeting in April of 2006, the school district proposed to change the student’s placement to a disabled-student classroom in a regular elementary building.  The elementary school only had nursing services available two days per week.  However, the student had significant medical needs in light of her seizure disorder, since (in the event of a seizure) medication needed to be administered rectally to prevent a life-threatening situation.  Only one nurse at the elementary school indicated a willingness to so administer the medication.

The parents were not present at the April 2006 IEP team meeting.  They called the school district to cancel the meeting, but had no further discussion with the school district as to convenient times.  However, on the date of the proposed April 2006 IEP team meeting, the parents met, at the school in which the meeting was to occur, with school district representatives.  The parents left without attending the IEP team meeting, and without any notice from anyone at the school that the IEP team meeting was still to occur.  As a result, the Court determined that the school did not take enough steps to ensure the parents’ participation at the IEP team meeting, amounting to a procedural violation.  Since the meeting resulted in the district’s proposal to change the student to the elementary school, with considerably less medical support, the change was deemed too significant to be harmless, and thus denied the student a FAPE.

However, denial of FAPE in this case did not merit any judicial relief.  As part of their due process complaint, the parents requested that the student’s stay-put placement be the special school (which was ultimately determined to be the appropriate overall placement by the Court).  The school district offered to allow the student to continue to attend the special school, but the parents refused to send her to school because they did not trust her teacher.  Since the district never implemented its proposed change in placement and the parents refused to send their child to the special school (which they initially had requested), the Court ruled that they were not entitled to any relief.

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