District Court Affirms OAH Decision Supporting Student’s Rights for Specific Offer of Placement

Stay Put based on Administrative Decision, and Reimbursement for Parochial School When District Denies FAPE

The U.S. District Court, Southern District of California affirmed an administrative law judge’s decision at 119 LRP 32329 that the district’s failure to present a clear written offer of placement in a single school denied the student FAPE. The ALJH held that the parents of a 16-year-old with autism and an intellectual disability was entitled to reimbursement for the money they spent when they enrolled their daughter in a parochial school. The court also held that the ALJ did not err in finding that the student’s private placement was appropriate and in awarding the parents tuition reimbursement and reimbursement for related services. The District Court also held that the ruling by the ALJ constituted “Stay Put” and ordered the District to pay for the subsequent year as there had been no other agreed-to IEP, nor a finding of FAPE by any judicial body since the ALJ ruling in 2019.

The William S. Hart Union School District failed to offer a 9th-grader with autism FAPE when it suggested multiple potential schools for the student to attend after she was diagnosed with an intellectual disability. In affirming an ALJ’s determination at 119 LRP 32329, the District Court held that the district was required to identify the specific school in which it was offering to place the teenager. The district challenged the ALJ’s determination that the district failed to make a clear written offer of FAPE and the ALJ’s tuition reimbursement award. The court cited the U.S. District Court, Central District of California’s holding in Glendale Unified School District v. Almasi, 33 IDELR 221 (C.D. Cal. 2000), that while a district may suggest several placements for the parents to consider, it must ultimately clearly identify a specific placement so the parents can decide whether that placement is appropriate. Allowing a district to simply offer a “nonpublic school placement” is too vague to enable parents to determine whether to accept or challenge the offered placement, the District Court reasoned. The court also rejected the district’s argument that the IDEA bars tuition reimbursement when a parent enrolls a student in a parochial school, noting that numerous courts have permitted reimbursement for such placements. Finally, the court found that the school the parents selected was appropriate because it offered individualized instruction, a functional academic curriculum, and allowed for community-based outings, job training, and inclusion with typically developing peers. Finally, the court did not find the District’s argument that a finding of appropriate-ness is not sufficient to invoke “stay-put.” The Court therefore held that the parochial school placement was the “stay-put” placement based on the OAH decision, and ordered the family to reimbursed for subsequent years.

Read the whole decision here.

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