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School District Provided Student With A Free Appropriate Education Even Without Using Parents’ Preferred Teaching Method
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives federal funds to states that provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities. An eligible child has a right to a FAPE, which includes both instructions tailored to meet the child’s needs and also support services to allow the child to benefit from such instruction.
School districts provide a FAPE primarily through an individualized education program (IEP). The IEP is developed by the child’s IEP team, which includes the child’s parents, teachers, and school officials. The IEP also documents the child’s levels of academic achievement and identifies annual educational goals. IDEA provides for specific procedural safeguards to address disputes over an IEP. If the parents are unsatisfied with the IEP, the parties can proceed with a due process hearing before a neutral arbiter, who determines whether the child has received a FAPE.
A.S. attended elementary school in the Issaquah School District. Before A.S. started second grade, her parents requested an IDEA evaluation because they thought she had dyslexia. A retired school psychologist evaluated A.S., and determined she demonstrated academic and cognitive strengths and weaknesses consistent with dyslexia. The psychologist also determined she was eligible for services under IDEA’s “specific learning disability” category, which includes conditions like dyslexia.
At the beginning of A.S.’s second grade, the District agreed to conduct its own initial evaluation. The resulting report cited the school psychologist’s own assessment and observations and concluded A.S. was eligible for services under IDEA. A.S.’s second grade IEP provided her with 40 minutes of reading and writing instruction per day and several accommodations for her general-education instruction. Her teachers used a variety of reading programs when instructing A.S., including programs designed for students who have difficulty reading.
In February of that school year, her parents were concerned that A.S. was not making enough progress toward her IEP goals and requested another IEP meeting. Her parents requested numerous additional accommodations, including Orton-Gillingham Approach training for A.S.’s teachers. Orton-Gillingham Approach is an instructional method for reading that the parents thought would be best for a student with dyslexia. The District denied their request. While A.S.’s second-grade report card reflected progress in her general and special education classes, like reading, she fell short of meeting her IEP goals.
At the beginning of A.S.’s third-grade year, A.S.’s IEP team met with an outside facilitator. A.S.’s parents again requested that A.S.’s teachers receive Orton-Gillingham Approach training and that A.S.’s disability category be changed from “specific learning disability” to “dyslexia.” The District denied both requests, stating that “specific learning disability” services were the eligibility category for dyslexia. A.S. continued to make progress in reading.
After A.S’s third-grade IEP meeting, her parents requested an independent educational evaluation (IEE). The District did not think an IEE was necessary and filed a request for an administrative hearing to demonstrate that its internal evaluations were appropriate. A.S.’s parents filed their own hearing request shortly after, alleging that the District denied A.S. a FAPE during her second and third-grade years.
The administrative law judge (ALJ) found that the District’s evaluation was appropriate and the IEP did not deny A.S. a FAPE. The ALJ concluded that the District was not required to specifically assess A.S. for dyslexia because it identified A.S. as having a specific learning disability, that dyslexia is one of many specific learning disabilities, and testing in dyslexia is not necessary to determine A.S.’s educational needs.
The parents then sued the District in federal court. The trial court ruled in favor of the District and upheld the ALJ’s order. A.S.’s parents appealed.
The Ninth Circuit held that the District did not violate the IDEA. The Ninth Circuit found that there is little distinction between dyslexia and the broader “specific learning disability” as defined in IDEA. The District conducted assessments to evaluate A.S.’s reading and writing skills, which are areas that dyslexia impacts, and determined she needed special education services to address those skills. The District also incorporated the parents’ outside evaluator’s assessments that tested for difficulties in A.S.’s phonological processing, which is an area often included in the term dyslexia. The Ninth Circuit held that the District’s evaluation was not deficient merely because it did not use the term “dyslexia” in the manner A.S.’s parents would have preferred.
The Ninth Circuit also held that the District was not required to use the Orton-Gillingham Approach at the parents’ request. The Ninth Circuit reasoned that school districts are entitled to deference to decide what methods are appropriate to meet the individualized needs of a student unless a specific method is necessary to enable a student to receive a FAPE. The Ninth Circuit stated that A.S.’s parents did not demonstrate that the Orton-Gillingham Approach was necessary for A.S. to receive a FAPE. Additionally, the Ninth Circuit found that A.S. made appropriate educational progress without the Orton-Gillingham Approach in her special-education instruction and general-education instruction. The Ninth Circuit held that IDEA does not require students with special-education services to perform the same with students as general-education instruction. Rather, IDEA requires that the IEP is tailored to a student’s individual circumstances and is reasonably calculated to help that student in light of those circumstances.
The Ninth Circuit upheld the ALJ’s order and held in favor of the District.
Crofts v. Issaquah Sch. Dist. No. 411 (9th Cir. 2022) 22 F.4th 1048.