Alaska Decision Regarding Parental Cooperation As A Prerequisite For Relief
In a decision filed yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit considered the role of parental participation as it relates to a school district's responsibility to fulfill its obligations to a child with a disability under the IDEA and federal regulations. Previously, the district court had ruled in favor of the school district, saying that the district did not deny the child a FAPE because the parents failed to cooperate in the preparation of a new IEP. On appeal, the ninth circuit disagreed with that conclusion and stated:
"Neither the IDEA nor its implementing regulations qualified any duty imposed on a state or local educational agency as contingent upon parental cooperation. Further, the [Anchorage School District] does not cite any binding case law, and we are not aware of any, that supports such a proposition."
As a result, the ninth circuit vacated the district's order and granted the parents reimbursement for tutoring expenses in math and reading. The court also suggested that the parents would recover attorney fees as well.
The decision is significant because, in reimbursement cases, parent cooperation is sometimes thought of as one of three prongs in the analysis as to whether parents are entitled to reimbursement. This decision seems to say that a school district should not be able to use that as an excuse. It should also be noted that the ninth circuit chose not to remand this to the district court to reconsider the issue of FAPE, instead relying on the initial hearing officer's "thorough and careful analysis" which was sufficient to determine, as a matter of law, that FAPE had not been provided. The ninth circuit said, "whether [the student] received a FAPE is ultimately a legal question because the [school district] challenges the hearing officer's legal conclusions." I think some would argue that whether FAPE was provided is a factual question, taking into account what the child requires and what the district provided. But there you have it in slightly different terms from the ninth circuit.
All in all a good decision for parents.