Parents file complaints against districts over special… | TCTA
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Parents file complaints against districts over special education evaluation

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A student lived in the attendance boundaries of Pearland ISD but attended private school in Houston. In January 2016, her parents emailed Pearland ISD and Houston ISD, inquiring about the availability of special education services and asking "how to move forward." The email explained that the student was legally blind and attended private school in Houston, but lived in Pearland.

PISD never responded. But HISD responded the same day, saying that if the student "is in a private school within HISD and you want her to remain there, you can receive an evaluation and limited services if she qualifies for them." The parents affirmed their desire to keep the student in private school and requested an evaluation.

Houston ISD performed a full and individual evaluation (FIE) of the student in May 2016, then convened an ARD meeting on June 7. At that meeting, a determination was made that the student did not qualify for services.

Because the student was going to a new private school the next year, the ARD committee recommended another evaluation for the new environment. Houston ISD evaluators visited the student three times at her new school in August and September 2016. The third visit revealed the student struggling to keep up with the material on the board in math class. Based on that observation, HISD completed a new FIE, finding that the student was visually impaired, but not functionally blind, and would benefit from special education services.

The parents disagreed with the evaluation's findings and requested an independent educational evaluation. The IEE was conducted in spring 2017.

While the IEE was pending, the parents emailed Pearland ISD in May 2017. PISD responded the same day and set up a meeting. The IEE was released in May 2017 and PISD agreed in June 2017 that the student was eligible for special education services.

The parents filed due process complaints against both Houston and Pearland ISDs in June 2017, arguing that the districts failed to comply with the Child Find. This is a requirement in federal law that states that a school district must locate, identify and evaluate all children with disabilities who are enrolled by their parents in schools located in the school district (including private schools) and must do so within a reasonable amount of time.

While the complaint was pending, both districts continued to work with the parents to provide special education services to the student. The special education hearing office ruled in favor of the districts, finding that the parents waited too long to file their complaint and that the districts had satisfied the requirements of Child Find. A district court upheld this decision and the parents appealed to the court of appeals.

On appeal, the court of appeals evaluated the issue of whether the parents' complaint was barred due to the statute of limitations, and whether the districts responded in a timely manner to the parents' request for an evaluation.

The court noted that parents are required to file a due process complaint within one year from the date that the parent knew or should have known about the actions that form the basis of the complaint. In this case, the parents filed the complaint on June 7, 2017. So the court determined that it could not consider anything that happened before June 6, 2016. After applying that deadline, the court determined that both districts responded promptly to the parents' request for services. The court of appeals agreed with the district court and dismissed the case.