In S. P. v. East Whittier City School District, No. 16-56549, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently considered whether a school district violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by linking the student's eligibility for special education only to her speech and language impairment and not also to her hearing impairment.
In denying the child eligibility for special education as a student with a hearing impairment, the school district used the wrong criteria for determining eligibility: it applied the criteria for eligibility of a student who is deaf rather than the less stringent criteria of a student with a hearing impairment.
Under the law, “Deafness means a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.”. Whereas to be classified as having a hearing impairment, a child need only have “an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.”
According to the school district's own evaluations, the the child's hearing loss results in a language or speech disorder that significantly affects her educational performance. The Ninth Circuit concluded that for this reason, the child is a student with a hearing impairment under the law.
The Ninth Circuit concluded that the school district had failed to properly classify the student, and classification error was not harmless. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, “[I]n the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing,” the IEP team must “consider the child’s language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communications with peers and professional personnel in the child’s language and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs.”
Because the school district in this case had only focused on the girl's language needs, the school district failed to provide her with goals and programs to address her hearing disability, which denied her a free appropriate public education.