Child with Special Needs Entitled to Special Education Services Under IDEA (5th Cir.)

Child with Special Needs Entitled to Special Education Services Under IDEA (5th Cir.)

The parents of minor child J.M., a fourth-grader with special needs, requested that the Leander Independent School District evaluate him for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).   In second grade J.M. experienced challenges with writing and classroom behavior.  The District provided accommodations through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”).  By April of second grade, J.M. had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”) and Developmental Coordination Disorder (“DCD”).  For the following year and a half, J.M.’s parents did not request services beyond Section 504.

Shortly before the start of J.M.’s fourth grade year, in August 2015, J.M.’s parents requested that J.M. be evaluated for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”).  The District refused on the basis that J.M.’s Section 504 accommodations (based on disability but not educational evaluation) were sufficiently addressing his needs.  One month later, a private neuropsychologist recommended that J.M. be considered for special education and diagnosed him with a Specific Learning Disability (“SLD”) with impairment in written expression.  After that, the District agreed to evaluate him.

The District initially determined that J.M. required special education services and developed a draft Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  Following a private staff meeting with the District’s outside counsel to which the parents were not invited, however, the District reversed its decision.  The parents requested a due process hearing at which a Special Education Hearing Officer (SEHO) found in the parents’ favor. Pursuant to provision of IDEA, the parents filed a complaint in federal district court to recover attorneys’ fees; the District filed a counterclaim challenging the SEHO’s findings of fact and conclusions of law.

The federal district court for the Western District of Texas affirmed the SEHO’s findings on the grounds that J.M. met IDEA eligibility criteria.  The District appealed, contending that, although J.M. was a student with a qualifying disability under IDEA, he did not require special education services.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed, ruling in favor of the parents.  The court held that the record confirmed the district court’s findings that J.M. met the eligibility criteria for special education under IDEA, including his failed mid-year benchmark tests, poor attention and concentration, and excessively high/low activity level; therefore, he was in need of special education and related services under IDEA.

Lisa M. v. Leander Independent School District, 2019 WL 2120166 (5th Cir. May 15, 2019)

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