Ninth Circuit rules a child's IEP does not have to identify a particular school in every instance.

August 30, 2017


Back in 2012, Rachel H. was a ninth grade student with Down Syndrome, but she has spent her entire education fully included with her non-disabled peers in a general education setting. During the 2011-2012 school year, she had attended a private school as a result of a settlement agreement. In May, when she was finishing up the school year, the Hawaii Department of Education convened an IEP meeting to determine her special education supports for the following school year. During the meeting, the Department of Education refused to continue paying for Rachel H. to attend the private school. Instead of indicating which public school she was being offered to attend, the IEP simply stated  that her IEP would be implemented on a public school campus. 


At the time of the IEP meeting, the IEP team members, including Rachel's parents, understood that the public school campus she was to attend was Kalani High School. Her parents refused to sign the IEP. A few months later, her parents told the Department of Education that they were going to move, and Kalani High School would be too far from their new home for their daughter to attend. They demanded that the Department pay for their daughter's education at a private school. The Department refused their demand, and informed them the the offer to place their daughter on a public school campus was not specific to Kalani High School. Eventually, Rachel's parents filed a complaint alleging that the failure to indicate which school she was to attend on her IEP was a denial of a free appropriate public education for her. 


Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a child's IEP must contain information as to the anticipated frequency, location, and duration or services. In this case, the Ninth Circuit considered the meaning of "location". Rachel's father had argued that location refers to a specific  school where an IEP is to be implemented. However, the United States Department of Education has explained that 'location' means the environment in which a student is to be provided with a particular special education service rather than a particular school, such as whether the service will be provided in the general education classroom or in a resource room or in a teacher's office. 


The Ninth Circuit agreed that knowledge of a particular school, classroom, or teacher may sometimes be relevant to allowing parents to meaningfully participate in the IEP process. And failure to identify a particular school when a child's disability demands the provision of special education services at a particular facility may be a denial of a free appropriate public education.


However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the IDEA does not always require the identification of a particular school. And identification of a particular school was not required in this case. Because Rachel's IEP called for its implementation “on a public school campus,” offering the special education services and modifications outlined in the IEP in a Kailua public school would have simply followed the procedure outlined under the law, even though the special education services and modifications in Rachel's May 2012 IEP were designed with Kalani High School in mind.


Martha Millar

Martha Millar Law--A special education law firm





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