TCTA | Parent sues, claims district failed to accommodate student's…
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Parent sues, claims district failed to accommodate student's learning disabilities

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A parent of an 11th grader sued a school district, alleging that the district failed to identify and accommodate the student's disabilities.

The student attended district schools for his entire education, with the exception of third grade. While in third grade in another district, the parent had the student evaluated by a private psychologist, who determined that the student was "in the middle part of the average range of intellectual functioning," but that there were possible learning disabilities in reading and written expression.

The psychologist determined that the child did not have ADHD and concluded that problems in school were mood related to learning disabilities. He recommended that the student be considered for special education services for learning disability and possibly emotional disturbance. The parent did not provide this report to the district cited in the lawsuit until the student was in 11th grade.

Throughout his educational life, the student had a mixed academic record and periodic behavioral problems. The student would pass some standardized tests but fail others, but did not fail consistently in any one subject or across the board. The student occasionally used profanity with with teachers and one one occasion punched a wall. The most frequent disciplinary infraction was tardiness.

When the student was in 11th grade, the mother requested a full individual and initial evaluation due to "struggles with math" and "behavioral outbursts when angry." The evaluation was completed eight weeks later and concluded that the student met the special education criteria for learning disabilities in math calculation and math problem solving, as well as reading fluency. The diagnostician did not consider it necessary to evaluate the student for emotional disturbance. An admission, review, and dismissal committee meeting was held to develop goals to achieve grade-level performance in math and English and a number of accommodations were granted.

The parent was unhappy with the district's assessment and requested a due process hearing. The school requested that the student be re-evaluated. Prior to the re-evaluation, the student was placed in ISS for losing his temper, swearing and slamming the door when a teacher tried to take his cellphone away. Another incident occurred on campus in which the student was charged with assault. The district sought to place the student in a disciplinary education center for 40 days. A manifestation determination review was held to determine whether the student's behavior resulted from learning disabilities. The attendees concluded that it did not and recommended that the student be sent to the disciplinary education center.

The parents filed a due process complaint with TEA, alleging that the district violated the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by failing to identify the student's disability and failed to provide appropriate services. After a hearing, TEA concluded that the district did not violate IDEA. The parents appealed to district court and then to the Court of Appeals.

On appeal, the court noted that IDEA obligates school districts to "identify, locate and evaluate students with suspected disabilities within a reasonable time after the school district is on notice of facts or behavior likely to indicate a disability." Here, the mother did not express concerns to the district and never requested an evaluation before the student was in 11th grade. Additionally, none of the teachers or district personnel expressed specific concerns about a pattern of behavior by the student. Once the mother requested an evaluation, the district performed one promptly.

The mother argued that the district should have realized the student suffered from a disability due to the combination of academic failures and behavioral outbursts that occurred over the years. The court disagreed, noting that the child was an average student who displayed no consistent pattern of failure that would have put the district on notice as to a disability.

For example, although the student failed a semester of ninth grade algebra, he passed the state standardized algebra exam that same year. Mixed academic success does not in itself trigger a school district's obligation to evaluate. Neither does disciplinary history. Delinquency does not necessarily indicate emotional disturbance to a degree that would require evaluation under IDEA.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the district complied with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.